Ann Gravells, Teacher and Author gave us an interview. Thank you Ann. It was so lovely to meet you and to hear all about your career in teaching. You can find out more about Ann at www.anngravells.com
First of all Ann, why did you decide to be a teacher and how did teaching evolve into you becoming an author.
It was by accident that I decided to become a teacher. I originally qualified as a hotel receptionist and trained new staff on the job at various hotels in England. I was approached by a local college to teach the Hotel Reception course on a part time basis, and this was the beginning of my teaching career. I worked towards my teaching qualifications over several years and made the transition to teaching full time once qualified.
After a few years I gained a promotion and I delivered staff training programmes. I found a real interest in training new members of staff, which led me to move to the teacher training department of the college.
During this time, I became an external quality assurer. Whilst carrying out this role, I helped write a new level three teaching qualification called ‘Delivering Adult Learning’. When I was compiling the reading list, I felt the text books which were available were too high a level, and so I decided to write one myself. I approached a publisher and to my surprise they agreed for me to write a book to support the qualification. Fortunately, it sold well and has since been updated many times to reflect the changing titles of the teaching qualifications over the years. I have now written, co-written and edited 19 books.
I have bought and read many of your books and they are exactly that, easy to read and understand and use. How has teaching changed from when you started to now, and do you see those changes as beneficial?
When I first started, I didn’t receive much support on the job. I was just given a syllabus and told which group I would be teaching, when and where. I very quickly had to learn to deal with the challenges which teaching involves, as well as how to assess that learning was taking place. Other members of staff proved helpful, as did the first teaching qualification I worked towards.
I feel one of the changes is the amount of support and guidance new staff now receive on the job. They are often allocated a mentor or an experienced member of staff who they can go to for advice and guidance.
Technology plays a big part now, not only in the support it can give to teachers via online forums, but in the way of thinking regarding teaching, learning and assessment approaches. These changes are beneficial as they can make the whole process more interesting, not only for teachers, but also for learners. I remember when I was at secondary school, in most classes, all the desks were in rows and we weren’t allowed to ask the teacher any questions or talk to others in the group. It’s very different now, and individual needs can be taken into account to support the learning process.
Do you think teacher training has changed in recent years and if so how?
I feel teacher training has had to evolve with the introduction of technology and the engagement with research. The qualifications for teachers have undergone many changes over the years, and it’s a shame that it’s no longer compulsory for teachers in England to hold a qualification. However, most teachers take their roles seriously and as a professional, they like to hold a recognised teaching qualification.
I think teacher training courses have become more interactive and experiential, both face to face and online. Trainee teachers now have so many books and resources available for them to use, as well as support via social media groups and online platforms.
How do you see the role of technology in developing teacher training in the future?
I think teacher training programmes will use more online and distance learning approaches. I must admit I like traditional interaction and communication in real time with real people, perhaps this is due to my age! I feel it gives the opportunity to discuss things and to learn from others. However, if done skilfully, a blended approach can work well.
However, I do worry about the ‘immediacy’ of things. For example, when people don’t take any time to consider something they have just read online, but respond immediately without really thinking their response through. I also worry about people not spelling words or using grammar correctly, as it can change the context of something. How someone thinks their words will be read, is often different to how they will be interpreted and understood.
There is a wealth of technology available to teachers now, to use in the classroom and in other ways. New teachers need to know that it’s okay not to know everything. In some instances their learners might know more about how to use something than they do, which is fine. The learners can use the technology, and the teacher can learn from them. It’s fine to admit you don’t know how to use something as technology changes so much.
Trainee teachers need to keep on top of developments regarding their specialist subject, as well as new ways of teaching and assessing it. It’s all about being a ‘dual professional’.
What do you see as the role of Ofsted in maintaining standards for teachers and what are your best tips for teachers being observed by them?
I haven’t been involved with Ofsted inspections for a while, but I am concerned that the focus is often too much on outcomes rather than the process of teaching and learning. However, this is going to change to focus more on quality than results. There will be a consultation in January 2019, with changes coming into effect the following September.
I’m not sure what tips I would give regarding being observed by Ofsted, as I feel all teachers should be the best they can be at all times. However, I have some tips for new teachers on my website.
How important do you think a sense of community and peer interaction is for those teaching privately and in the public sector in FE?
Teaching can sometimes be an isolated role, perhaps if you are the only teacher for a particular subject in your organisation, or you are freelance. All teachers, whether teaching privately or in the public sector can benefit from a sense of community, even if this is only online via social media groups.
Networking, attending events and conferences is a great way to interact with others and to not feel isolated.
What advice would you give those considering starting a teaching career in both the private and public sector in FE now?
Go for it! Don’t be put off by anything negative you have heard as it’s a very rewarding career, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Give it a try it for yourself. You could start part time, train new staff on the job at your current place of work, or do some voluntary work to see if it is for you.
What for you is key when supporting, developing and training new teachers in our post compulsory sector?
I feel communication is the key. New teachers need to know that they can have someone to talk to, about anything they are concerned about. All new teachers should have someone at their place of work that they can go to, as well as a named person on the teacher training team where they are working towards the qualification. It’s also useful to set up a social media group of the trainee teachers to enable them to keep in touch and share their experiences.
I would like to tell them that when times are hard and you are feeling under pressure, it will all be okay. There will be support available so don’t be afraid to ask for it, or to admit when you don’t know something.
If you are keen to pass on your skills and knowledge to others, you can make a real difference to someone’s life and career. It can be hard work but it’s very rewarding. What I love is ex-learners recognising me in the street or the supermarket years later and telling me how they have progressed with their careers, and thanking me for how I helped them.
Thank you Ann, very much for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find out more about Ann on her website www.anngravells.com