Interview – What it’s like to be a Teacher in an Inner City State School in the UK?


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Image by Alex Halavais via Flickr

This is the second in a series of ‘Interviews’ I am doing (you can read the first one here). I’m fortunate enough to know people with a range of interesting careers so I thought it would be nice to share their experiences with you; who knows you may be inspired enough to try a new career yourself after reading this!?

To try to keep an element of fun, I have included a few ‘random’ off topic questions at the end to make you smile! 😀

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to teach in an inner-city school? I decided to ask my good friend Lisa who does just that, to find out more…

Q. Hi Lisa, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, before we start could you just tell the readers a bit about you?

A. Well, I’m Lisa (Lisa-Marie to my nearest and dearest), 34 and an English Teacher from Kings Heath, Birmingham.  I’m a Brummie born and bred (raised in Harborne), although I have ‘dual citizenship’ as a Bristolian after spending 7 years in the SouthWest!  Most of my family lives here in Birmingham although I miss Bristol terribly, at times – perhaps one day I’ll head back in that direction.

Q. You currently teach in an Inner City State School in Birmingham. How did you first get involved in teaching, and why?

A. Everyone has a memory of an inspirational teacher at school; the person who made learning fun, took a genuine interest in what you were doing and cared about your progress.  I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have received an excellent education from many exceptional teachers; however, it was my A Level English Literature teacher that truly inspired and nurtured a lifelong passion for my subject.  It is her influence that has informed each step of my ever progressing career and with each teaching day, I strive to develop and maintain the highest standards a student should expect from their teacher; the kind of standards she maintained.

Q. What is the most challenging thing about your work?

A. Honestly, it’s the general apathy of students.  I am aware that although I am passionate about my subject, it’s not got the ‘whistles and bangs’ of other subjects such as art, sciences and the more vocational subjects.  However, I still believe that it is one of the key factors of accessing the curriculum.  I work hard at making what they believe to be a ‘boring subject’ engaging and exciting, incorporating drama techniques as well as traditional teaching methods into my practice.

The reluctance in some parents to be the ones who teach their children about behaviour and discipline can be exhausting too.  It needs to be a process of co-operation between the school and the family, however some (and I truly stress the word ‘some’) believe that it’s all down to the school – however, without parental support, it’s impossible to get through to some students.

Inconsistency in support from management and leadership within schools can also have a huge effect on the role of the teacher.  It’s a sorry state of affairs when the pupils have no respect for the Head of their School and they simply don’t care about being disciplined.  I’m not sure whether it’s a sign of the times, or a flaw in the education system.  What I do know is that it doesn’t matter whether students have a shiny new academy building, or a 1950s ‘retro’ comprehensive site, there is a growing (and worrying) lack of respect for acceptable behaviour in the classroom.  What we can do about that as teachers, or as parents, is something of an unknown entity at this time…especially if Michael Gove doesn’t stop contradicting himself!

Q.  In what ways has Michael Gove contradicted himself (and for those who don’t know. who is he?)

A. Michael Gove is the current Secretary of State for Education.  His biggest contradiction to date has been that he wants all teachers to have First Class degrees, however, when threatened with industrial action regarding teachers’ pensions last month, he claimed it was quite acceptable for untrained parents to go into schools to help!!  However, he does have the odd flash of inspiration, for instance he wants the powers teachers have to discipline students to be more powerful.  He also stated he’d like to ban mobile phones in the classroom – something I would welcome!

Q. So, do you think mobile phones influence classroom behaviour?

A. Yes, mobile phones are a total pain in the arse, if I’m perfectly honest!  The amount of children I have caught posting on facebook or texting whilst in class is unbelievable!! I also think they also contribute hugely to the increase in bullying – it’s a lot more underhand and vindictive with bullies using social networking sites to post messages, pictures and videos to victimise vulnerable students.

Q. Can you tell us about any interesting people you’ve met through your work?

A. I’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic teachers during the four years since I entered the profession.  There are the teachers who blow you away with their inspirational practice and ideas, and then there are those who make you wonder why they are still teaching at all!!  I hope one day I am viewed as one of the former, rather than the latter 🙂

Q. What is your most favourite thing about teaching?

A. The moment you grab the attention of one child; the moment you see something click in their eyes and they walk out of the room saying ‘Miss, that was an awesome lesson today; I really enjoyed that and I really think I learnt something’, even if it is the only lesson of yours they say they enjoy for the whole of the year.  You have to learn as a teacher to accept that not everyone is going to think English is amazing as you do.

Q. And the least?

A. The waste – so many kids ‘can’t be arsed’ and fair enough, we live in a democratic society so it’s their prerogative to decide whether to take advantage of the education given to them.  What I can’t stand is then they decide that because they don’t want to learn, they will disrupt the whole a lesson, jeopardising the rest of the group’s education in the process.  It’s the ultimate display of disrespect and bad manners.  If you want to fail, then that’s your choice, but don’t think you have the right to harm another’s future.  That growing attitude of even the youngest of secondary school students has sometimes made me question my career path, or if I have the energy to do this for the rest of my working days.  I’m still here though, they haven’t beaten me yet 😀

Q. What tips would you give to someone looking to get into teaching?

A. Don’t go into teaching if you think it’s an easy ride.  Yes, the holidays are great however, we work our asses off for those holidays!  My working day generally starts at 7.15 am and finishes at sometimes 9/10pm in the evening, sometimes even later.  It’s a high pressure job.  It’s a lot of responsibility; however, the personal rewards can be enormous – especially if you can inspire a student to look at your subject in a positive light.  You have to be passionate about your subject.  If you really are serious, get some time in schools observing classes and be sure to go to a variety of schools – the good, the bad and the ugly ;).  Not everyone is cut out to work with those ‘challenging little mites’, as much as we would like to make a difference.  There are days when you want to throw in the towel and say to hell with them, it’s all part of the ‘fun’.  Like they say on the tv, no day is ever the same.  Kids constantly come up with that one question you haven’t planned for.  Make sure you know your stuff, that you really want to make this as a career because the moment you lose interest, so do the students.

Q. If you hadn’t chosen teaching as a career what would you like to do?

A. An editor for a publishing house.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share about your career choice that you haven’t already mentioned?

A. It really is a great job being a teacher, even when you think about the long hours and the constant worry of coming up with new and exciting approaches to delivering lessons on your subject.  The choice to re-train as a teacher is one of the best I’ve ever made.  Seriously 😀

Q.  So, what did you do before you retrained as a teacher?

A. I was actually a Legal Assistant before I moved into teaching.  I worked for a legal firm in Bristol, in their Education Department and more specifically in their School Fees Recovery section.  I was part of a team who chased unpaid school fees to independent schools!  Rather different, you might say to teaching English!

Q. What do you do when you aren’t teaching?

A. The spare time I do have is precious and I like to make the most of it by getting out of Birmingham and just reminding myself that actually, we have a beautiful country here in the UK.  I won’t lie, there are times when nights out with friends (a lot of whom are also teachers) can end up being like an episode of ‘Teachers’ (as opposed to ‘Waterloo Road’…), but we all need to unwind whatever our chosen career path.When I’m not letting my hair down, or bimbling around the countryside, I love to read or watch some rather dubious sci-fi TV – we all have our ‘dirty little secrets’ 🙂

Now the serious stuff is over, in the style of a teen magazine, or school newspaper, here are some ‘fun’ questions to give us a giggle 😉

Q. What is your favourite song at the moment?

A. Walk by the Foos.  I’ll always be a rock chick at heart.

Q. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

A. Bacon and tomato omelette.

Q. If you were a tree what tree would you be? 😉

A. A Norway Spruce – fresh smelling, evergreen, strong and a little bit prickly if not handled with care.

Q. Who would win a fight between pirates and ninjas?

A. I admire the qualities of both, however I have to be loyal to my West Country friends and say Pirates.

Q. What is the last book you read?

A. I’ve just finished re-reading Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ as I’m teaching it for A Level next year.  It’s one of my favourite books – Carter has an unrivalled imagination, in my humble opinion.

Thank you so much for sharing Lisa, I hope the readers will enjoy reading your interview as much as I enjoyed asking the questions and hearing your answers! 😀

If you have an interesting career you would like to share, drop me a line (crystalbear96@hotmail.com) and I’ll sort out an interview slot for you! 🙂

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6 comments on “Interview – What it’s like to be a Teacher in an Inner City State School in the UK?

  1. Excellent! My brother-in-law is a science teacher at a Derby urban school, and my sister was an English TA, so a lot of what Lisa had to say had me nodding along in agreement. As for the “respect” aspect of what she said, I think I’d actually need to spend a few weeks observing classroom behaviour to grasp how things may have changed. I went to a school widely regarded locally as “the worst” because there was no uniform and you could call the teachers by their first name. As I got older and heard schoolroom tales from people who’d been kids at surrounding schools I came to realise that it’s not the uniform and the address that engenders respect in a school, it’s the communication and standard of discipline that’s initiated right from the beginning. This is something I think has become significantly weakened over the years because we treat students as “individuals”.

    They’re not. They’re a class, and need to be treated as such. I feel if we could instill an “if we all pull together, WE will be the best” in our kids from an early age it would make the teachers jobs so much easier. But no, we have to cater for cultural and ethnic backgrounds, religion, health and safety, and so much more red tape.

    I still admire our educators. I still don’t admire the people who set their stall out for them. Sadly, those that set that stall are probably the educators of MY generation…

    Thanks Sharon and Lisa, I enjoyed this!

    • Thanks Ed, I really admire Lisa and others like her who can take on the challenge of our education system! They do an excellent job despite all the barriers and hurdles the system makes them navigate – I know I couldn’t do it as the temptation to give some of the little horrors a slap would be too much! lol

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