Lissa Cook - why I took up teaching

Lissa Cook

Lissa Cook - Credit: Archant

We often hear that ‘a job for life is a thing of the past for all ages’. Writer and radio news editor Lissa Cook made the decision last year to train to teach. Here’s the story so far...

The last time I was writing a column for Derbyshire Life it was under the by-line of News Editor of High Peak Radio. So how come now I’m a trainee teacher?

I’ve been asked that question over the past year, mostly in a tone of voice that implies ‘Why on earth would you want to become a teacher?’ As with most things in life, the answer is love and money.

While I was at High Peak Radio I was asked by the former Drive presenter Helen Mason to step in at the last minute to cover a course on Radio Production and Presenting at Staffordshire University. It was a wonderful experience. Being with people half my age made me feel twice my age but also made me feel much more connected to a younger generation. Yes, it could be stressful – especially dealing with mental health issues and working in a consumer-demand-led economy where the view of students is, ‘We’re paying and you owe us value for money’. But, I’ve never laughed so much in my life.

After a year, I returned to the BBC as a freelance documentary producer where I had the opportunity to help make fantastic programmes on subjects as diverse as the Manchester bomb attack, illegitimacy, and the impact of chronic illness on faith. Yet I missed teaching.

It turned out that the government were offering a £26,000 bursary for specific subjects like maths, sciences and foreign languages. I’d lived in France for three years and done a bi-lingual Masters so I’d qualify. They’d also pay me nearly £5,000 to learn Spanish. I popped round for a cup of tea with Richard Beeden, a friend who’s an Assistant Principal at Hope Valley College and who by coincidence was preparing an open evening to recruit new teachers. Suddenly I was on a roller-coaster ride to becoming a teacher.

To be honest, the initial three months were less roller-coaster and much more a tedious trudge through a treacly mess of hideous bureaucracy that included revising for a maths proficiency test and digging out every exam certificate I’d ever passed from the back of dusty filing cabinets. I’m 44. That’s a lot of dust.

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To explain the jargon, I’m training with the National Modern Languages SCITT via Silverdale School in Sheffield, the first national school-based programme for languages, who award my ‘Qualified Teacher Status’. It’s called ‘School-Centred Initial Teacher Training’ because I learn on the job, teaching at Hope Valley plus six weeks at High Storrs in Sheffield. Though we were thrown in at the deep end in the classroom from the off, it’s not without a life-raft. I have a school mentor and Silverdale run practical skills-based training days. We also have lectures at Sheffield Hallam University to prepare us for two academic assignments to gain a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education. Then I’ll be a ‘Newly Qualified Teacher’ and have to work for another year to become a fully-fledged teacher.

As I’m heading towards Easter Holidays, it still all feels like a dream. I spent the High Peak’s heatwave summer learning Spanish with copious glasses of rioja to deepen my cultural knowledge. I lucked out and stumbled upon the brilliant Spanish Course run by Fernando and Merche Perez-Cos near Santander in northern Spain. My husband (and fellow Derbyshire Life columnist) spent a heavenly holiday there while I learned Spanish and he explored the hills on his bike.

At the end of August, my fellow students and I spent a week full-time at Sheffield Hallam University being introduced to the history and theory of education and then suddenly it was September and I was in school.

We’d been warned that teaching isn’t for everyone and two weeks in I thought I’d have to hand in my notice. I fell asleep at 4.30pm nearly every day. And that was before I’d even taught a class. It’s hard to describe the assault on the senses. You’re trying to process and learn names of your new students and colleagues, remember a raft of special educational needs, and work out a timetable from the spreadsheet from hell whilst navigating corridors packed with the very loud voices of hundreds of hormonally-primed teenagers. The last straw is trying to work the photocopier. I think I’ll get my PGCE before I figure out how to do back-to-back printing.

But Hope Valley is a magical place. I wrote an article for this magazine about their fencing club a few years ago and I loved it the minute I walked through the door. I’ve never been anywhere where the atmosphere is so caring. Day One’s INSET day was devoted to talking about all the children coming from primary school, discussing their potential needs to allow teachers to make sure they had the best possible start. The philosophy of Acting Principal Paul Dearden is simple – build good relationships with the children and the rest will follow.

My mentor, Lucy Bower, is generous with her time and has an uncanny knack of picking me back up at the end of every lesson while giving me a raft of helpful tips to make it better next time. My colleagues are clever and kind. And my students are brilliant.

By brilliant, I don’t mean academically, though this year’s GCSE results were excellent and put Hope Valley in the top five schools in the county. By brilliant, I mean that they’re allowed to be individuals. I observed a History lesson where the teacher, Mr Young, was talking about the Industrial Revolution and a child who’d recently moved from another school eloquently talked about how she’d felt like an 18th-century factory worker but now feels that she’s allowed to express herself as an individual.

Hope Valley is a mixed-ability school which prides itself on embracing a wide range of children and is fighting the current trend to exclude students with behavioural issues. It was downgraded by Ofsted to ‘Inadequate’ in its last inspection.

All I can say is that my own experience has been the opposite of ‘inadequate’. It’s been incredible.