Teacher Voices: Naomi Hancock

It's great to catch up with former students and discover what they are doing. That is exactly the purpose of this series of blog posts. This is number six in my series, asking former students on the B.Ed primary education degree programme what they are doing now. It's also a chance for them to voice their hopes and fears about teaching, now they are actually in the thick of it.

Here's an interview with Naomi Hancock (@Hancock_Naomi on Twitter), who graduated from Plymouth University in 2014.

1) What made you decide to become a teacher? What/who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living until my mid twenties. I got into teaching because I wanted to continue my backpacking lifestyle in Thailand but needed some funds so teaching TEFL English was my ticket. I did a four week TEFL course in Chiang Mai and landed the most wonderful job in a Thai government school on a mini English program. I fell in love with my class of 7 year old Thai children and the buzz of seeing them progress and develop as the year went on. I continued like this for a couple of years and then made the decision to come home to get my teaching qualification and pursue the first career I felt truly passionate about.

2) What is the best thing about being a teacher in a primary school? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I love interacting with the children and showing them new tools, tricks and toys. I am currently a primary computing specialist and I love having the freedom to let children tinker, explore and learn things for themselves. I am learning everyday and thriving from the engagement of the children.

3) What does it take to become an excellent teacher? What characteristics do the best teachers have?
Patience, multitasking skills, the ability to prioritise, a quirky character. Being brave enough to have a go and to lead by example (we are all learners).

4) What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as an educator?
Getting through my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year with so many challenges. I was asked to step down and told I was not strong enough to pass the final term but I made the decision to prove to myself that I was not only strong enough but also a great teacher. I had to drop the heavy burden of self doubt and continue as the classroom teacher and pass my final term as an NQT. It had been a massively challenging year juggling two young children and working in a school that is like no other trying to gear my year two class up for their SATs. I was teaching my own 6 year old daughter and my friends’ children. Always trying my best to please everyone while in reality I was not managing to please anyone. I knew I was a good teacher but I would buckle under observations. I had been judged as not meeting the teaching standards in the first two terms and a representative from the local authority came to observe me alongside the headteacher and with a little help with my planning and emotional support from my team and family I pulled off a great lesson and got enough encouragement to turn things around for the last few months. The pressure of being told you are not strong enough for the kids was crippling. My own daughter and her friends were in that class and of course you just want to give them the best. 

5) How can we improve education? If you were the Secretary for Education, what would be your first priorities?
Put less pressure on testing and assessment, more trust in teacher to instil a love of learning and supporting the children’s needs and interests. The curriculum is so packed full that there is limited room to really go into depth on topics that might really ignite some interest and passion. For me it was always a battle to ensure deep learning while also covering all the content. There was always a need to push onto the next topic to make sure the children were best prepared for their SATs.

6) What are the most innovative uses of technology in education (that you have done yourself, or have seen)?
Twitter has provided real time Q and A sessions with experts on a subject. That has engaged children and made them really carefully consider their questioning skills. Live Skypes also have had the same effect giving the children a window of opportunity to immerse themselves in the topic and conversation. Google Suite is great for collaborating and producing digital portfolios. I have just been on a CPD ran by AppsEvent in Singapore and had a taster of the opportunities for Virtual Reality in education. I’m very excited to see where VR will take us and what experiences it will allow the children.

7) What is your favourite story or memory of teaching children you would like to share?
We had been looking at the topic of Journeys for a while and this particular week’s the focus was on China. I had the low ability English group and they were still near the end of year 2 struggling with their phonics and general engagement in writing. I decided they should plan and organise a Chinese tea party and they had to write invites, recipes and shopping lists throughout the week then on the Friday we joined together with the pre-school to have a party. The children had so much pride in their work and were super excited to show off their achievements with their younger siblings and friends.

8) What advice would you give those who are just about to start out on the pathway to becoming a teacher?
Leave your self doubt at the door, work hard try your best and be proud of yourself for doing that. There is always more that could be done but you need a little self care to make sure you are strong enough to support others. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and styles but also don’t be scared to keep it simple. Sometimes simple is best!

9) What will schools of the future look like? What would you like to see happening in the next 10 years?
I would like them to have more open and collaborative work spaces, opportunities for children to grab hold of an interest and run with it. Less teacher talking at the front of the class and more setting up opportunities for children to take charge of their own learning. What it will look like is a worry. I worry that education will become more and more privatised, with more teachers becoming stressed and leaving the profession, leaving new NQTs to keep trying to reinvent the wheel till they burn out too.

10) What are the most significant challenges facing education right now?
The pressure for teachers to enable their children to perform for tests and assessments resulting in the children being spoon fed facts rather than exploring, problem solving, collaborating and working out the answers for their own questions. All of these  are skills that they will need for the future. Teachers are under too much pressure and are leaving the profession (or at least leaving the country).

Photo courtesy of Naomi Hancock

Creative Commons License
Teacher Voices: Naomi Hancock by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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