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Why I decided to become a primary school teacher

Olivia Hepworth is a primary school teacher. She lives in Clanfield, Hampshire and teaches in Petersfield.

A teaching career wasn’t something I had always wanted. It was something I sort of stumbled upon and has become a huge part of my identity, life and my biggest success.

I left school in 2005 and joined South Downs College to do A-Levels in photography, law, history and psychology.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t particularly passionate about any of these subjects and didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I was just following the path that I thought most people took after leaving school and so I chose the subjects which most interested me at the time. But I decided after my first year that I didn’t want to continue.

Outdoor education

Instead, I had seen in the South Downs prospectus a BTEC national diploma in outdoor education. Being an ‘outdoorsy’ person who loves the sea and all things water-related, I knew I wanted to enrol.

Read more: Find out what excites you and choose a job you love

Two years later and after lots of hiking, skiing, surfing, climbing and camping, I had completed my diploma and achieved a distinction.

Not only that but I had met two incredible women who are two of my dearest and most treasured friends.

Going to university

So after two amazing years at college, I thought outdoor education was it. I was going to be an outdoor instructor and was set to study adventure education at the University of Chichester.

An application and an interview later and everything was set. I would study from home as it wasn’t far to commute. I was excited and anxious to get started.

September came and university wasn’t what I had expected. After the ‘party’ that was college, the level of work and expectation was a real shock to the system. I was lacking a lot of confidence at the time and doubting myself.

I decided that I wanted to leave the course after only three months. Looking back I know I could have kept going; I just needed a little bit of guidance and a big hug.

Transferring onto a different course

While questioning my degree, I decided to flick through the university prospectus. I spotted the primary teaching and education BA hons degree. I had always loved being around children and had done work placements in this field.

That was it, mind made up, I would transfer from the adventure education degree onto primary teaching and education. I knew I didn’t want to completely quit university, I just needed to find my niche.

It really was that simple. It seems a little impulsive but my mum always used to say to me: “Just do what makes you happy.” This little mantra makes me feel comforted in moments of impulse and change.

I was accepted onto the course and found a temporary job at my old secondary school as a learning support assistant (LSA) until the start of the degree. I worked mainly with Year 7 and 8 children which was a great experience for me.

Becoming a student teacher

In my eyes, I wanted to experience student life ‘properly’ this time. I found a few houses with students looking for an extra lodger, and finally, I found my home for the first year of uni! It was brilliant. I made some good friends and felt fully supported by the course.

I learned so much about myself, society, inequality and humanity whilst on this course and that is down to the incredible members of staff, Vini Lander, Chris Gaine and Mary Young who I feel privileged to have been taught by. They made me feel empowered and impassioned to teach future generations.

Teaching placements

We also had practical teaching placements, and these were always very full on but exciting and rewarding. I worked with Years 1, 3, 4 and 5 during my placements.

My first placement was a rural school in Rustington, West Sussex. My second in a small village school on the Isle of Wight and my final placement was a more urban setting: a school in Fareham. I also completed a special interest placement where I got to choose an alternative educational setting. I chose the Sustainability Centre. This was thoroughly enjoyable for me as I got to revisit my passion for the outdoors but with an educational hat on.

Throughout my practical placements, I learned so much more about teaching than is possible to learn from theory alone. It was really hard work involving lots of preparation, creativity and resourcing.

But it really was worth all the late nights planning and resourcing. I qualified at the end of 2012 and was awarded a first-class BA Honours. This is one of my proudest achievements to date.

My first teaching job

In May 2012 I applied to be a class teacher at my placement school in Fareham and sadly didn’t get the job. I was gutted at the time and cried A LOT as I loved the school and had made good friends with the class teacher I had been working alongside.

It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. A couple of weeks later I interviewed for a teaching job in a school just 15 minutes from my home. I got the job!

Working at Herne Junior School is my dream come true. It is the warmest, most creative and exciting school that I have ever stepped inside. I have the most inspiring, hardworking, supportive and kind colleagues and have made real friendships that will last a lifetime.

Yes, I am biased but there really is something magical about Herne. I have been working here for almost eight years and I can’t imagine ever leaving, other than to start a family.

Becoming a primary school teacher

I knew I wanted to teach primary age children because there is more variety of subjects to teach on a day to day basis whereas with secondary you tend to have a subject that you teach every day.

And I thought that I’d be better suited to teaching younger children as that’s where I felt I had the most experience; I don’t think I would be cut out for teenagers.

What it’s like to be a teacher

My day to day work consists of planning, resourcing and differentiating lessons for differing abilities and children with special educational needs and disabilities, as well as delivering lessons and hopefully inspiring the children in my class. I also have meetings with parents to discuss their children’s progress and needs.

Attending and running staff workshops is another part of my job, as well as looking out for children’s welfare and following our safeguarding procedures when I think a child might be at risk or vulnerable.

I liaise and work as a team with my incredible colleagues, planning and organising school trips, running school clubs such as ‘Bake Off’ and ‘Eco Club’ and organising and leading special weeks, such as Fairtrade Fortnight. Leading a subject, attending training and writing subject policies, running whole school events and taking assemblies, are also other parts of the job.

It is a very busy job where you rarely sit down and no two days are ever the same however this is part of the appeal.

The best part of my job

For me, the part I treasure most about my work is the relationships I get to build with the children I teach and watching them achieve and succeed.

I know it is cliche but those ‘lightbulb’ moments when you know a child has grasped the objective you’ve been teaching them are really special. In my almost eight years of teaching, I have worked six of those in Year 6 with children aged 10 and 11. For me, this is an incredibly rewarding year group to work with. I love the age of the children because they are relatively mature, growing in independence and there is a real sense of comradery that you build as a class.

Every year, I feel fiercely proud watching the Year 6 leavers’ performance and end up in floods of tears on the last day of term when we have to say goodbye as they head off to secondary school. I am always sad to see them go, even the characters who’ve been challenging and tested me at times, but I am so excited for their next adventure.

Being a child’s champion

I’ll always remember, during the leavers’ assembly, a video of children talking about what they’d miss most about their time at Herne. A boy in my class who could be a pickle at times, who I had made it my mission to champion that year, responded with, “Mrs Hepworth because she always looks out for me and helps me in general.”

Every year as a teacher you receive lovely messages of thanks and gratitude from pupils and parents but this one really struck a chord. I had expected his response to be his friends or football and I hadn’t expected it to be me. All some children need is for you to believe in them and not stop believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

To me, teaching children is an absolute honour and a gift.

The hardest parts of the job

I think some people still think that teachers start work at 9am and finish at 3pm but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

During term time we work long hours. Yes, we do get incredible holidays but even still we do work through parts of these too.

I am grateful for these breaks as they help to keep me sane and re-energise me. The best piece of advice to help anyone cope with what feels like a mountain of work is to write a list every day. It helps to keep me focused on the day’s priorities and ticking things off is really cathartic.

Working with like-minded and supportive colleagues is so important and I feel so fortunate to be part of an amazing team of people.

Having a supportive partner who is prepared to dig out the brambles around the school pond at the weekend, cut out resources during weeknights and attend leavers’ assemblies is also essential.

If you want to be a teacher

Stick at it. It can be tough, extremely hard work, you will have moments of self-doubt but the rewards are all worth it.

Make sure you choose a specialism that really interests you. When you are looking for jobs and interviewing, make sure you choose schools which reflect your ethics and values. The leadership of a school is really important in setting the tone of the whole school so get a feel for this also. Finally, be prepared to potentially clean up sick from coach floors.

It’s honestly one of the best jobs in the world. I’d be lying if I said it felt like that every day but I honestly believe that it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling careers. I’ve laughed so hard with my class, cried with pure joy at my children’s achievements, jumped with excitement, completed danceathons, taken part in numerous fancy dress days and sung at the top of my lungs on school residentials.

I can’t imagine I would get to do all that in any other job. I love it!

Find out more about training to become a teacher at the UCAS website.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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