Meet the Trainees

Where better to find out about what it's like to train with the Astra SCITT than from people who've done it themselves. Read on to find out more about some of our 2016-17 cohort, and their invaluable advice for our current and future trainees...... 

Luke Gardiner (Secondary PE, QTS-only)

Luke Gardiner, PE (AGS) cropped

Why did you choose to train to teach, and why did you choose Astra?

I had spent a few years before and after university working in different schools and different PE departments gaining experience. This really cemented my interest in teaching PE, and so I looked for a training programme close to home in Buckinghamshire. I found ASTRA after contacting Aylesbury Grammar School and was really impressed with the holistic approach to teaching experience that they were offering, as well as the opportunity to work in some great schools in my local area.

Where were your placements schools?  What were they like?

My main placement was at my alma mater, Aylesbury Grammar School (AGS). I loved my time working in the single sex grammar school environment. It was challenging due to the expectations placed upon the pupils and the teachers, but rewarding for the same reasons. My second placement was at Holmer Green Senior School - a very different experience. This shorter placement challenged different areas of my teaching understanding, and behaviour management and organisation became more of a focus. I learnt a great deal during that period, which I could then transfer back into my final time at AGS in the summer.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your training year?

The consistent need to stay on top of evidencing and recording positives and negatives - being reflective. I found that you needed to be switched on throughout to make the most of it. I had some time off due to an accident for the first few weeks of 2017, but ASTRA and my mentors were really supportive and I soon picked up where I left off.

What were your ‘highlights’ and major accomplishments during the training year?

Being involved with the extra curricular side of PE was a big highlight throughout, and I also really enjoyed being involved with a tutor group. Attempting a new style of teaching or method/task and watching it succeed and the pupils engaging will forever be the best thing about the experience.

What are you doing now, and what is your ultimate career ambition?

I was offered a job in February at AGS and accepted immediately. I am now preparing for my first full time teaching position and cannot wait to get started. I am very interested in the House system at AGS and other schools, so working up that pastoral ladder would be interesting, but my main goal would be to work towards being a departmental lead.

What advice do you have for the next Astra cohort of trainees?

Build friendships with course friends, particularly from the same subject. They are an immediate social group who are all experiencing the same things as you. Make the most of that support group. The amount of teaching ideas and thoughts that we shared in our group on a Wednesday or via a text was what contributed to all of us succeeding.

Arrive to school early - schools are usually a ghost town until 8am. I made the decision to arrive at school at 7:15-7:30am after spending time with two teachers at HGSS who followed this routine religiously. You can achieve an incredible amount in that hour before school starts and I felt way more prepared and confident on those days towards the end of my experience.

Build a relationship with your mentor and other teachers that allows you the opportunity to be creative and take a gamble - I had a wonderful relationship with my mentor and it allowed me to try out different teaching styles and methods and take a few risks. Lots worked, lots didn't - but I had a relationship that gave me the confidence to learn my lessons now while I can.

 

Nicki Bassett (Primary, QTS-only - Salaried route)

Nicola Hale, Primary (Butler's Court) cropped

Why did you choose to train to teach, and why did you choose Astra?

I have always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a child. I wanted to make a difference to children's education and I found that my jobs in child care, before I became a teacher, had given me so much joy and sense of achievement that I knew there was no other career for me.I was already working at Butlers Court School, and they chose Astra as a provider they'd like to work with.

Where were your placements schools?  What were they like?

Butlers Court School Beaconsfield - A two-form entry school from Reception to year 6. The site is set in beautiful grounds and the classrooms are quite separated. Lots of green space and a large playing field. The staff are very supportive and friendly. The head teacher is very open to teachers trying new things in the classroom and very much has an open door policy.

St Mary's School, Beaconsfield - another two-form entry school from Reception to year 6. The school is set in one continuous building with playing fields to the rear. The staff are very friendly and were kind to me in my short time here. This school is a C of E school, with religion being very important to the school.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your training year?

I think the main challenge was juggling the amount of school work versus Astra work. Because I was salaried, I had more school work than the un-salaried trainees. I found that the best way to deal with this was to prioritise. I knew that there was never going to be nothing to do, so I decided that I needed to make sure I was getting everything done at the time it was needed It's also good to make sure that you are realistic about the amount of work you can do. Don't take on things that you're not 100% sure you're going to achieve. Sometimes it's ok to say "I'm really sorry but I can't do that as I've got an assignment due in next week".

What were your ‘highlights’ and major accomplishments during the training year?

Finishing the course was a massive highlight and accomplishment. As I reached the end of every half term I knew that I was one step closer to making it to June. Through the course my confidence in my ability  increased so much. I learnt not to be so hard on myself, and to listen to other people’s advice and act on it.

What are you doing now, and what is your ultimate career ambition?

I am currently setting up my year 1 classroom ready for September. I'll be welcoming 30 children into my class, which is at my main placement school. My ultimate career ambition is to become a head of year group or maybe a deputy head. At the moment I think I'd like to be able to stay in the classroom, so headship is not for me yet, but who knows, maybe in a few years.

What are the three things you wish you had known during your training year that you know now?

It'll be the most challenging year of your life; it'll be the most rewarding year of your life; keep up to date with your weekly reflections.

What advice do you have for the next Astra cohort of trainees?

Collect evidence from the beginning. You may not use it for your final meeting where they grade you, as you'll probably look back on it and think it's not as good as the work you're doing by the end, but it shows how far you've come!

Keep on top of your paperwork.

Get to know the teaching standards. Keep a copy with you in the first few weeks while you're observing teachers and see if you can spot any of the standards against their practice.

Your Astra buddies are a great support network. Our Primary cohort have built up such a friendship, we still keep in contact now. We're sharing all the things we're putting into our new classrooms and our whatsapp group is a great place to get advice from fellow trainees.

Take some time for you! October half term is a good one.......it's pretty quiet in comparison to the rest! Make sure you have some time to look after yourself. Keep healthy in mind and body so that you don't drown in standards, paperwork and weekly reflections!

Good luck!

 

Simon Beedell (Geography, QTS-only)

Simon Beedell, Geography (CGS) cropped

Why did you choose to train to teach, and why did you choose Astra?

In my previous employment I felt that I was not being challenged on a day to day basis so I decided that I needed a change. After discussing the possibility of teaching with my wife who is also a teacher I explored the training options available. I attended an information afternoon at Reading University where they encouraged everyone to have at least a few days of school observations before submitting a UCAS application. As an ex-pupil of Dr Challoner's and also living locally I was aware of Astra so I got in touch to see if they could assist in lining up school visits. I was impressed with the professionalism of the scheme so I had no doubts that it was the training provider that was right for me.

Where were your placements schools?  What were they like?

My main placement was at Chesham Grammar School. I had been there for a day of observation and I liked the school, so I made it my first choice when applying. The school has high expectations of everyone in everything that they do, which is a philosophy that I agree with, so it suited me well. My priority when I was planning lessons was to ensure that the content was engaging but it would always be challenging to everyone. I found the school to be forward-thinking in terms of removing some unnecessary administrative procedures that can burden teachers.

My second placement was at Holmer Green Senior School during a short half term that was just over five weeks. With such a short time there I needed to ensure I got as much as I could out of it. It was interesting to see the differences between the schools, not only with the teaching and learning aspect but how the school itself was run. Lunchtime was only 35 minutes long so the day felt more intense that what I was accustomed to, but it forced me to be organised.

While the schools had their differences, there were also a lot of similarities, as the students still lived in the leafy Chilterns less than ten miles apart.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your training year?

When my mentor was putting together my timetable I was asked if I had any preference on year groups so I asked for some additional 6th form lessons. A few weeks in, after observations of the Year 12 classes, I started to have doubts that I could teach a 6th form style lesson, which was a lot more independent than the GCSE groups. I felt a lot more confident after a few lessons, but it took a while to get comfortable with allowing the students get on with a task rather than intervening every few minutes.

I would also say that the interview processes for both Astra and my permanent employment were quite intense. Teaching a 30 minute lesson to A-Level students, with no prior experience, was a little intimidating! It's a good process though, and whenever I tell non-teachers about it they always think that something similar should be implemented outside the world of education.

What were your ‘highlights’ and major accomplishments during the training year?

I received some good second-hand feedback from some of the students via another teacher who had been speaking with them. I had also been told by another teacher that some Year 12 students wondered why their new Geography teacher was always being observed in his lessons. It turns out that they had not figured out that I was a trainee, so it was reassuring that even the older pupils had accepted me as a 'real' teacher.

What are you doing now, and what is your ultimate career ambition?

I am now teaching at Tring School. My aim is to have a leadership role at some point, as I feel that my previous management experience would be beneficial to schools.

What are the three things you wish you had known during your training year that you know now?

Any doubts you might be having about anything are probably not unique and there will be others in exactly the same position.

GCSE content is not linear. It took me a while to realise it, but there is a lot of overlap between the topics so it makes life a bit easier for everyone, and you can always reference back to what the pupils have learnt in a previous unit to keep the knowledge fresh.

There are some great Facebook groups that provide amazing inspiration with new ideas every day. Lots of people are willing to share their resources for free to help everyone out. I now have some great wall display ideas that I will be using.

What advice do you have for the next Astra cohort of trainees?

Make yourself part of the school as quickly as possible. Do not feel like you are a long-term visitor at the school and consider yourself a member of the teaching staff from day one. Speak to as many different teachers as possible as you will get some great advice and maybe even some amusing anecdotes! If you can cite any of the advice you have been given in your interview for employment it will impress the interviewers, as it shows that you have not been kept in a bubble during your training.

 

Lee Rowe-Elliott (Biology, QTS with PGCE)

Lee Rowe Elliott, Biology (Misbourne) cropped

Why did you choose to train to teach, and why did you choose Astra?

I felt that the best way for me to learn and progress as a teacher would be to dive straight in at the deep end. Training with a SCITT, you get the opportunity to make try out ideas, lessons and activities in a live classroom environment; if it goes well then great - f not, you have the support of the department, ASTRA and mentors to be a reflective practitioner and adjust your lessons to be the most effective you can be.

Where were your placements schools?  What were they like?

My main placement school was The Misbourne School, with my second placement school being Dr Challoner’s Grammar School. I found the contrasting environments (Grammar vs Secondary Modern) incredibly helpful as it allowed me to adjust my teaching to all teaching environments.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your training year?

The balance between PGCE, school commitments and home life. It is important to keep on top of your work, but even more so to relax effectively where possible.

What were your ‘highlights’ and major accomplishments during the training year?

A major highlight for me was working alongside all of the other incredible trainees. Being able to bounce ideas amongst others in the same boat as you definitely keeps you sane!

Would you recommend choosing to do the PGCE modules?

I would recommend the PGCE as it allows you to do further reading and apply it to your lessons and training year. However, your workload does increase and you need to keep on top of other commitments.

What advice do you have for the next Astra cohort of trainees?

Interact with as many trainees from as many different subject areas as you can, this will help you pick up a lot of skills. Everyone is in the same position as you, so don’t feel like you are the 'only' one that is stressed, you may be for a bit, but it it is all worth it in the end.

 

Katrina Blunt (Mathematics, QTS with PGCE)

Katrina Blunt, Maths (AHS) cropped

Why did you choose to train to teach,  and why did you choose Astra?

My own education gave me a love of Maths and a flair for numbers. But everyday I see people who don’t yet have this ability, having the mindset that Maths is too hard or they don’t ‘get it’. So I felt that helping young people to develop confidence and understanding of Maths, with an enjoyment of numbers, was the greatest gift I could give them.

I had been working with young people in various voluntary roles and I decided to look into teaching as a career option. I attended an Astra open afternoon where I met the team and a number of representatives from different partner schools. I was really impressed with what Astra were offering and their ‘brand’, and so I decided this was where I wanted to do my training.

Where were your placements schools?  What were they like?

Aylesbury High School and The Grange School in Aylesbury. I thoroughly enjoyed my placements at these two schools and they were really contrasting placements. I was warmly welcomed at both schools and really felt part of the teams from the start. I was particularly sad to leave Aylesbury High School as I spent the majority of my training year there and the team, staff and students really made it a life-changing experience for me.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your training year?

Getting everything done! The hardest part was when I had a PGCE assignment due and had a busy teaching timetable. The priority, as I worked late into each evening, had to be planning for the lessons I had the next day (last minute, I know) but when I just needed to get my assignment written, I had three or four lessons to finalise for the next day so the assignment had to wait for another day.

What were your ‘highlights’ and major accomplishments during the training year?

As I was approaching the end of my placement year and I told my classes I was leaving, some of my students told me they wished I would be teaching them next year and were sorry I wouldn't be staying at the school. It made me proud that they wanted me to teach them again.

I was also really excited and proud to present a research project I completed during my enrichment weeks to the Senior Leadership Team at Challoner’s.

Would you recommend choosing to do the PGCE modules?

I would definitely recommend the PGCE as it underpins so much of the teacher training in school. If you like research and reading, and getting really immersed in a topic, then you will really enjoy it. I just wish there had been more time to devote to the PGCE during the training year, as there are so many interesting books and papers to read. It was great, however, to do the PGCE at the same time as teacher training, as you really got to put what you were reading into practice in school and to enhance your observations of others.

What are you doing now, and what is your ultimate career ambition?

I am working as a Maths teacher at Aylesbury Grammar School. It's difficult to see beyond the NQT year at the moment but I do have ambitions to work my way up into senior management, building on my skills and experience from my previous career.

What are the three things you wish you had known during your training year that you know now?

The importance of keeping every resource you use when teaching or get given during the year - you are building your own bank of resources for the future and when you come to look for things as an NQT you'll wish you kept better organised files.

Most of your best evidence for the teaching standards will come towards the end of your training year. Collect evidence during the early months of all the things you need to develop and then once you've improved, collect evidence to show you've made progress (which you will).

It's really ok not to know what you're doing. Whether that's part of a topic you're teaching that you need a refresher on or have never done before, or you're struggling with behaviour management - you're expected not to know everything.

What advice do you have for the next Astra cohort of trainees?

Enjoy every minute of your training. They say school days are the best days of your life - well going back to school as a teacher trainee has been the best year of my working life so far.

Find a positive in each lesson you teach even if things go horribly wrong - it's too easy to focus on the negatives.

Get started on your PGCE assignments early!