We spoke to Ali Banks, Science teacher and Deputy Director of CPD and Training at Notre Dame High School.
What made you want to teach?
“I originally wanted to be a conservation scientist. I was saving up to go to Peru by selling car insurance after I graduated when I realised that I'm good at talking to people; then I started coaching other staff and realised I was good at that too. I also had friends who were teachers, and they talked all the time about how much fun their jobs were, so I decided to apply for a PGCE. I began my training when I got back from Peru.”
What's teacher training really like?
“It's really supportive! Whether you train via PGCE or School Direct you start off slowly and gradually build your teaching hours — by the end, you know you can handle the demands of the ECT years. You have placements in two contrasting schools, so you see what different settings are like, and the support you get in those placements is key: knowing you have someone beside you saying, 'you can do this'. It's amazing how quickly you build your knowledge and resilience — I remember starting my training shaking with nerves when I went into a classroom, and just a year later I finished my first week as an NQT feeling like a real teacher.”
What do you like most about teaching?
“I fell into teaching 13 years ago, but really it's a calling. You spend so much time with these young people, and seeing them grow up and leave your school, knowing you've had an impact on their lives, is so rewarding. For some of them, you will be the most consistent person in their life. When I teach students skills I know they'll use for the rest of their lives, or when they ask me questions just because they want to know more about the world, it isn't really a job — it's magic.”
What are some challenges teachers face?
“Generally, the biggest challenges are things you can learn to overcome. If your students are disengaged, you make the topic relevant to them and show them you care. It can be hard not to take things personally, but you learn resilience. Teaching during a pandemic was like being a trainee again, learning new ways of teaching and being nomadic around the school — but I certainly learned how to be more organised. And if I could give one piece of advice to new teachers, it would be to take breaks! Teaching can be all-consuming, so you need to take the holidays to relax and decompress.”
Where do you see your career going?
“I love what I do: in five years time I want to still be doing it. Some teachers are driven by career progression and that's amazing — I look forward to working for them one day! I'm driven by my love of being in the classroom: no matter how tired I am, I always look forward to teaching. I always want to be the best teacher I can be: if you know more, you can do more; and if you know better, you can do better.”
What would you say to someone thinking about training to teach?
“Apart from 'do it!'? Get some school observations under your belt: all phases, contexts, and settings. We've all been to school, but that doesn't mean we know what teaching is really like, so you need to spend time in schools — and lesson observation really is the best form of CPD anyway. I still enjoy observing lessons, and I've been doing it for 13 years!”