Ricki Steele - Finding My True Calling
BA (Hons) Teaching and Learning
Class of 2020
"If I can tell you one thing, know that Education is much wider and bigger than teaching. If you have doubts about being a teacher, don't worry. There is a lot more to Education than the classroom."
I chose to study Teaching and Learning because I knew I wanted to work in Education but I wasn't exactly sure what sector suited me best. Initially, I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher but upon completing the placements that my course allowed me to do I realized that being a classroom teacher wasn't exactly what work best for me. I wanted to work with the children and nurture them and I especially care about their social-emotional wellbeing, which is really difficult to do in a classroom when you've got a million other things going on around you. So I have realized that my talents and my skills work best in Education outside of the classroom so that's why.
I think the first difficulty I overcame was my dyslexia. I was only recently diagnosed as dyslexic when I came to university so having to muddle through a new learning difficulty whilst also learning a lot of new content was quite difficult. But thankfully the university was very supportive of me. I met with the disability team and we created a plan for me and my needs. All tutors knew and were really helpful in supporting me in any way I needed. I also created a very strong bond with the Library Support Service team who were very helpful and answered all of my queries and questions even though I have absolutely tons.
I think coming from Northern Ireland and being away from home, I also dealt with a lot of homesickness. It wasn't until the second year that I actually really started to miss home. It's worth knowing that homesickness can hit at any time, not just after the first few weeks. Dealing with it it's all about having a support system around you, so let your friends know if you're struggling a little bit. Being able to contact home, I know you want to be big and grown-up, but I rang my mom every day, she rang me and she loved it and it was really nice just to have that connection with them on the bad days.
University can be tough at times, so you need to know who to talk to. Talk to your PAT (Personal Tutor), talk to your friends, talk to some of the lecturers or the counselling service if you need to. University is supposed to be the best time of our lives, we're told, but that doesn't mean that sometimes it isn't really difficult and it's nice knowing that you're not the only one going through some struggles like that. That it's very normal.
I chose to study at the University of Cumbria because it felt like home. There's a vibe at the University of Cumbria that's really hard to explain but it kind of feels like family. Everyone knows everyone, you won't go past someone without them speaking to you and all the staff are so friendly from the lecturers to the staff on the cafes to the security teams. Everyone is just so lovely and everyone just makes you feel at home.
I also really enjoyed how the lecturers shared the passion that I had from the very first interview I had. During my interview, it didn't really feel like an interview, it just felt like a chat and we got talking about new parts of Education and about how my schooling was different from an English schooling and things like that. It was just a vibe that they really wanted you there and they cared about you, which was really nice. And they kept in contact throughout all of the application procession with emails and through some little things like about looking forward to you coming to join them and that vibe didn't really leave during my whole three years, you very much feel part of a team at the University of Cumbria and that's something that I really enjoyed coming from a small town.
A smaller campus suited me quite well too. I didn't feel overwhelmed, I didn't feel like I was going to get lost and if I did get lost, which did happen a few times, there was always someone to point you in the right direction, whether it be a fellow student or a member of staff.
I have to give it to my lecturers, they made the course what it is. The content was absolutely brilliant it was so engaging. They catered to all our different learning styles. It wasn't just sitting and listening. We were up, we were active.
If we were learning about the early years we were dressing up, we were playing outside, we were building dens. There was always a way to explain something if you didn't understand it the first time. If you were learning about ICT, we were playing with the little bugs or with dictaphones and things like that. They made everything so hands-on! It wasn't just a case of sitting there and listening to someone speak for three hours.
And if you ever had a question, they were there to answer it. You know if you needed extra support, their office door was always open and that's something that I really enjoyed. I also really appreciated the aspect of having a PAT (personal) tutor, having that one person you could go to with your worries and concerns. Goodness knows I was with mine a lot! And that's something I really appreciated, that my PAT tutor was always there whenever I needed her. She was always an email away. I could pop into her office anytime I needed if I had any questions or concerns. I just felt very supported from very early on, which was actually brilliant. I also really enjoyed the placement opportunities that my course allowed me to do.
If you're not sure that teaching is for you, the Teaching and Learning degree is much wider than a teaching degree so, if you're having those doubts, this degree gives you the room to try different things and explore before making your career decision.
I was on placement two days a week and we were on campus three days a week so that felt like we had the perfect balance of everything. It also meant that there was a possibility for employment with our placement because you could give them two timetable days which I knew a lot of people on my course actually managed to do which was absolutely fantastic and it meant that you kind of had a routine which I think was really good for us. You knew what you were doing every week and that really helped you know, especially coming up to deadlines, that you could work with your time well so you knew how to get everything in on time while still keeping up with your placement responsibilities.
I wish I'd known that the people I would meet would be friends for life and not to be so shy when it first started. That everyone was new and everyone was experiencing something new and not to be worried that they might not like me or what if I don't make any friends because everyone is so keen to get on with each other and to make friends. The friends I made there I know will be friends for life. We've been through so many ups and downs together, I think that's the first thing, it's don't be nervous on your first day because everyone is in the same boat.
Number two - read, read, read, read. Read what the lectures give you because it's only going to help you. It might seem like a task at the time but believe me, when it comes to assignment writing, it's key and it's very important. Not only that, it means you know a lot outside of the assignments as well. It means that you're well-read on the situation around you, which will only help you when it comes to further down the line in your career.
Number three: talk to people when you're struggling and, if you have a question, ask it. You're not the only person thinking it. I bet you five people around you in the same room are thinking that exact same question. It's about being brave and being the one that asks it. If you don't understand something, that's absolutely fine.
A lot of things you're going to be learning are new and they're going to throw some weird phrases at you and you will catch them the first time. If you're like me, you will catch them the second time. Just know that the lectures are there to support you and they want to see you succeed, so if you're struggling, if you've got a question, just ask it. They will explain it and they won't mind how many times they have to explain it. Goodness knows I've had to be told things more than once, more than twice, more than three times, but it works and it sticks. And when you click, when it clicks with you, that look on the lectures' face, it's absolutely brilliant!
Number four - go to the library. I know people that finished their degree and have not been to the library once and I don't understand that. Go to the library, speak to the librarians, they will help you. If you can't find a book just ask, the library is a perfect place to study.
First of all, it's really quiet. There's lots of resources too. If you need laminating pouches, they've got them. They've also got a laminator, things like that are really helpful when you have to build some resources for some of your coursework. But not only that, it's central, if you're struggling to find journal articles, there are people to help you. If there's a book you're really interested in, you can get it on a library loan. I think the library is so important and the staff there are absolutely lovely. It's a great place to get some work done as well, there's lots of areas in the library you can go to. If you like a little bit of noise or if you like being absolutely silent, go to the library.
And my last tip is that Education is bigger than a classroom. I know that sounds silly in a way because that's kind of what our course is all about, but I wish I'd known that from the beginning and realised how wide and vast Education is as a field. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher and I was so tunnel-visioned on that. I wish I'd been a little bit more aware that Education is much wider than that. It would have helped me and made me not worry as much when I did have doubts about not wanting to be a primary school teacher.
Talk to people who have done the course. Ask questions at Open Days. Speak to people who have done the course. That's the most important part. Get to know their insight, get to know what they liked and anything they find difficult. Get some top tips from people who've been through it.
Speak to your Personal Tutor (PAT). Get to know your PAT tutor really well, they're your main source of support. I would say definitely my main source of support. They're there to look after your wellbeing, so if you're struggling with anything, let them know. And if you have any questions about your assignments or anything they might not be able to answer directly, they will point you in the direction of people that will know or will be able to give you some general advice. They're also there if you need just to chat. I know I've struggled a lot in second year with just needing someone to talk to. My PAT tutor was really helpful.
And lastly, the third tip I would give for students looking at the same course as me is to do it. Take the leap. You know, if you're not sure that teaching in a classroom is for you, the teaching degree is tailored directly to that so there's not a lot of room for change. Whereas the Teaching and Learning degree is so much wider than that and I think that if you're having those doubts this degree is for you because it gives you room to make decisions and it gives you room to change your mind, which I have done. I did change my mind and I wasn't stopped. I didn't have to stop and start again I was given the room to change my mind and try different things and I was never told it wasn't a good idea. I was allowed to explore a lot of things until I made my final decision.
I'm going to go on to do a Social Work Master's and I'm probably going to use that to go to something like Educational Welfare so I can combine the skills I've learned on this degree and my Social Work skills to ensure I can best support students in a way that I feel they need to be supported in this day and age.
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