For Abi Leyland, being in the classroom and seeing children gain a new understanding of a topic is what inspires her the most.
Abi, who completed her undergraduate and PGCE Secondary courses, both in History, at the University of Worcester, now teaches the subject at Hagley Catholic High School and says the challenges that come with the role are accompanied by the many rewards.
“Teaching is not easy, but it’s worth it,” she said. “It gives me a real sense of purpose. I feel like my life will never not have purpose now.”
But this was not always the career path that Abi had envisaged for herself. She originally came to Worcester having transferred from studying Audio Engineering at another university. It was work experience during her History degree that then led her to teaching.
“Originally I thought I was going to be a curator,” she said. “I did some work in museums and enjoyed speaking to the children about it most and then I did some work experience in a school and thought I can totally see myself doing this.”
Since then, Abi has not looked back and is responsible for the development and delivery of the Key Stage 3 curriculum at Hagley. She also teaches GCSE and A-Level History.
“Of course there are challenges, but it’s positive, it’s rewarding, it’s about how you make that child feel. I like that moment when you explain something. It’s not even that they’ve understood it, it’s that they have connected it to something else they have learnt. You see them, the cogs click into place and that’s amazing.”
Abi says in her role she believes it is important to keep on top of all the latest historical research and comment to be able to give her pupils the best education, a practice she has continued from her university studies. She praised her experience at Worcester on the History course.
“History at the University of Worcester set me up with the knowledge and skills to succeed in my teaching career, and the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge research as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade module enabled me to develop this as part of our curriculum at Hagley,” she said.
“I found the course through the University of Worcester website when I was looking for other options. I really enjoyed how customisable the History course at Worcester was, there was a lot of flexibility in the topics you could study, which meant I was able to create a course that was right for me.
“The teaching at Worcester was amazing. The lecturers were really inspirational, and the seminars they put on were engaging and thought-provoking. In my final year, I really made the most of the support on offer with regular meetings to help with our own research and thanks to this I was able to win the Stanford History Prize and get a First. I truly have my lecturers to thank.”
Abi went on to do her PGCE, which opened her eyes to a more conversational style of learning.
“I loved it and would recommend it to anyone, especially when I speak to others about different providers,” she added. “The PGCE course at Worcester is really thorough and helped me feel as prepared as I possibly could in my role as a teacher. We were given amazing opportunities to go on trips, access professional organisations, and develop the resilience needed to become good teachers.
“The teaching allowed us room to debate, whilst also giving us practical skills we could use in the classroom. I remember the teaching was ‘this is the conversation, let’s talk about it’. You can’t say this is how you teach this, as it’s consistently changing, so it’s a conversational style of learning. And the History PGCE lead was the most nurturing and supportive - she was just amazing.”
As for the qualities that make a good teacher, Abi says they are varied.
“To be a teacher I think you need resilience, flexibility and a genuine love for it,” she said. “You can’t do it if you don’t love it. You need to find your right school, find your right subject and department and you can do it even in the most difficult conditions, as I have done in the past two years with the pandemic.
“You also have to be organised, you have to be very self-disciplined and self-motivated and prepared to make the odd sacrifice. There are times when you just have to be in school 7.30am to 5.30pm, but that’s okay.”
In terms of her career, Abi just wants to carry on teaching, but doesn’t see herself in a purely management role. “I would like to be a fantastic classroom teacher and I’d like to carry on with my studies - do a PhD in History – but I don’t think I would ever be able to give up the classroom teaching.”