Teaching: on the front line

April 11, 2003

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage

Name: Nick Swarbrick

Age: Ancient (46)

Job: Senior lecturer in early childhood studies, communication, language and literacy at Oxford Brookes University. I'm loving it, two terms into my appointment, having come from a local education authority nursery school. I must annoy my colleagues with this. It's odd, at 46, to be so wet behind the ears.

Salary: Beyond the dreams of avarice (a bit less than my salary as a headteacher).

Qualifications: MA (Oxon), PGCE. Not much, when you consider the wealth of qualifications and experience of many of my colleagues.

Experience: I was a classroom teacher, first in County Durham, then in my son's old nursery school in Oxford. I went on to a headship in Oxford, where I was also a teacher-mentor, including for an early-years school-centred initial teacher training course. I've lectured on play in the primary curriculum following some action research I did on adult intervention in play. My latest adventure has been the Forest School project, which looks to be a way forward in early years.

Hours spent teaching: This term is rather heavy, with the undergraduate early childhood studies courses and the early-years PGCE. Some weeks I go from lecture to lecture, but it's no worse than the on-your-feet-all-day stuff that foundation-stage teachers do all the time. And my shoes don't have sand in them at home time.

Hours on red tape: Lots, if you include marking and preparation, but surprisingly little otherwise. Perhaps it's just by comparison, as I come from being a teaching head - or maybe because I am a little fish in a big pond, most of it is done by other people.

Hours on research: I do have hours set aside, but I still have to carve out the time. I'm trying to write something on the outdoors curriculum. I also have to think about a doctorate that is quite daunting. Before I became a teacher, I started one (on a late-medieval manuscript in the Bodleian) that is now just a series of box files.

Teaching bugbear: Getting students to do the reading, or maybe a wider problem: convincing them that this is a precious time, time to think, to debate. Some, not all, still seem stuck on a school-based model of "How much work do I have to do to get through?" My own college tutors will look at this with a wry smile.

How would you solve it? Armed force seems to be a fashionable problem-solving strategy these days.

Teaching tips: Tips? I wouldn't dream of teaching my grandmothers to suck eggs, but I enjoy moving round a room, making contact with groups of students, engaging them in debate. I worked as a college library assistant when I was younger, and got the taste for it then. It's the same dynamic that gave me a buzz when I taught young children: seeing what you can do to help them learn what they want to.

Outside interests: Family, gardening, "being outside", early music, poetry, strong coffee, staying up late, church. I'm not sure in what order.

Career highpoints: I enjoyed and was proud of Forest School. As a physical and emotional high point I would pick tying the knots to make a rope bridge over a river in the Brecon Beacons as part of my Forest School leaders' training. Today feels pretty good, too.

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