I have always been keen on working with children and considered teaching early on, but as I was unsure I initially chose to study law. When I graduated I worked in children's events management and it was then I made up my mind to teach. I was also interested in pursuing a career through the medium of Welsh – my first language. I chose to do a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) Primary with the option to teach in Welsh speaking schools.
Which route did you choose to qualify?
I did a Primary PGCE at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I decided to specialise in the Foundation phase (children aged 3-8) but there was also an option to choose Key Stage 2 (aged 7-11). I was most interested in working with very young children so did my placements in Early Years settings, such as nursery units and reception classes. The course included the option to learn partly through the medium of Welsh and do placements in Welsh speaking schools.
How easy did you find it to get your first job?
Prior to teacher training I had done two weeks' work experience in a primary school to check teaching really was for me. In March of my PGCE I applied for a job at this school and was successful, starting the following September.
After a year I decided to apply for my current nursery leader position, mainly because the school was more local to me – the year before had been a long commute to work. This job wasn't open to NQTs (newly qualified teachers) - they were looking for experience, so I was very pleased to get it with only one year's teaching under my belt!
What does your job involve?
The nursery unit has 96 pupils aged 3-4 who attend either morning or afternoon sessions. I work in a team with four teaching assistants. We each work one-to-one with individual children or with small groups on focus tasks, or the children choose their learning activity independently, for example, sand, water or the Play-Doh area. For other activities, such as circle time, the children are split into three groups where I look after around 16 children and reinforce their learning and knowledge of the theme that we are following during the week. There is also a big emphasis on teaching personal and social skills, such as hand washing, putting on and taking off coats and learning to share.
The whole curriculum is taught in Welsh. Some of the children are Welsh speakers; others have English speaking parents who want their children to be taught in a Welsh speaking school and immersed in the language. This means I have to be very aware of varying levels of language ability. I use the 'sandwich theory' giving instructions in Welsh, then English and then repeated in Welsh to allow understanding but also immersion in the language.
As a nursery leader I have additional responsibilities. I line manage four teaching assistants and interact a great deal with parents. For each session we also prepare and serve a snack, which varies every day. I have to come up with ideas for healthy options and manage the finances to buy them. In the future my role will also involve liaising with local feeder day nurseries to build up relationships and ease the transition to school for our new pupils. I also get involved in the wider school, running an after school sports club for Year 3-6 (aged 7 – 11).
What hours do you work?
School hours are 08:40 to 16:30, but I'm in at 08:00 and leave around 17:00. I do paperwork, such as lesson preparation and assessments, in the evenings and try to keep weekends free.
What skills or qualities do you think teachers need?
Being organised is a key skill, especially in my role. You also need to be a highly motivated and positive person with bags of enthusiasm every day despite how you are feeling.
Now I am in my second year of teaching I really appreciate how important it is to see things from a child's perspective. You need to see behind the behaviour of children who could be easily labelled as 'naughty' and identify the triggers for this behaviour. Often bad behaviour is a result of a child having difficulty expressing their feelings, so flexibility is also important to find different ways to allow each child to communicate easily.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love seeing how the children develop through the academic year, coming in with limited vocabulary and leaving with a degree of fluency, gaining social skills and grasping how to lead their own learning. I have the satisfaction that I have set the foundation for some of the most important skills in life.
What has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
For me this has been supervising four teaching assistants, some older than me! It has come with experience but I found delegating tasks difficult at first. This is not something you are taught on a PGCE!
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I am very interested in child development and if I decide in the future to move away from classroom teaching, it could be towards a role as an early years advisory teacher.
What are your tips for those considering teaching as a career?
Teaching is not an easy option. The best advice I was ever given was to spend two weeks in a school making sure it was the right career for me. Arrange a work placement and make sure you get a real experience of what teaching is like - stand up in front of a large class of children and take control rather than just observing from the back. Then you will know if it is right for you.
Find out more about training to teach in Wales.