by Vicky Butterby
Member of PDNorth: North east & Cumbria
When I was 25 I was adamant I was leaving the teaching profession. I was working in a large secondary school where I taught over 300 different young people each week. The pace was intense and my entire day was mapped out, from who I taught and when, to the time I ate my dinner. Building relationships was also difficult, I felt like I didn’t know my learners and that they didn’t know me. I saw other staff members fleetingly in the staffroom, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone, watching the world from my classroom door as an endless sea of people passed by me.
Many people I’ve met and worked with tell me that school wasn’t for them. They tell me they hated school because of its rigidity, its rules, its routines. They tell me that they ‘didn’t get’ their learning or that their teachers ‘didn’t get’ them. Over the years I’ve come to accept that school isn’t for everyone, and that includes its teachers too!
I fell into community learning by chance. I had left secondary teaching and begun working for the local authority as their Healthy Schools lead. When my role was made redundant, I was offered an opportunity to become a community youth justice teacher, supporting young people who offend to re-engage with learning. Additionally, I was asked to teach an evening course in criminology for Access to Higher Education students. Suddenly I was in a whole new world, a world where building relationships was everything, a world where an hour a week with a young person really mattered, a world where supporting adults to grow in confidence and achieve their dreams of university study was a core aspect of the job. I loved this new world!
Instead of churning young people through a system, working in community learning has enabled me to help people become excited about their learning, to help people enjoy their learning, to help people realise they are capable of learning and that they can achieve great things. When I work with young people who offend we structure our time together, we have cups of tea when we want, we take a break when we need it. These seemingly small things have made a huge difference, to my learners and to me. Working this way has allowed me to work collaboratively with my learners towards shared goals. As a result, each teaching moment feels as though it has both point and purpose.
When I was 25, I thought I hated teaching. I thought I was a rubbish teacher, that I wasn’t cut out for the job. Ten years on I’ve realised that it was the school system that wasn’t cut out for me, not me who wasn’t cut out for teaching. Hundreds of highly qualified, deeply passionate people leave the teaching profession every year. For some they will have left because teaching wasn’t the right job for them. I wonder however, how many excellent teachers leave because they haven’t yet found their fit? Community learning carries with it an ethos that aligns with my values and my personality. I work at a place where I feel inspired by what unfolds around me, where there is always hope and where nobody is forgotten about. Community learning is my fit and I’ve met many other square pegs along the way who tell me community learning is their fit too. Teaching is such an amazing career, but only if you’re in the right place for you.
This article is dedicated to Grace. Grace began her learning journey on our Study Programme, completed her Access to HE diploma, finished undergraduate study at Teesside University and is now in the process of applying for her Master’s degree. Grace is just starting to realise she might not be that rubbish at learning after all! The determination, growth and achievement of community learners such as Grace continually reminds me why I love teaching in this sector.