e-Qualitas Initial Teacher Training curriculum is led by subject-specific leads; the cohort of trainees for Primary Education are led by a team of three who are focussed on English, Primary and Phonics respectively. Shanti Chahal is our SCITT’s Subject Lead for Primary English.
Shanti has worked in teaching both Secondary and Primary education, as an English subject lead and curriculum-developer.
As Primary English Subject Lead, Shanti works with e-Qualitas’ trainees within our Primary cohort on the Schools Direct and Teaching Apprenticeship Programmes. In addition to this, Shanti supports e-Qualitas in developing its Primary ITT curriculum.
Here is our interview with Shanti, offering an insight into her background and experience in schools:
(e-Q) What is your background prior to joining e-Qualitas?
At university I studied microbiology, so completely different to my work now! I became a Science Teacher, after spending time working in a hospital. I studied for my master’s degree in educational leadership whilst leading science at a school in Medway. After that I returned to London to work in English leadership as well as teaching. I worked then for Academy’s Enterprise Trust, who are a large MAT and a the specialist leader for English. This entailed delivering training, designing curricula and working with different schools across the Trust; as well as day-to-day teaching, leading English within the Trust.
I am passionate about writing, so I have completed lots of work around writing for pleasure. I’ve done some work with the CLP around reading for pleasure and really pushing excitement and enjoyment of reading. I find this a particularly relevant subject post pandemic.
Would you say your passion for reading brought you to your current role?
Yes, certainly. When I first started teaching, I led science because it made sense with my degree… but I am someone who reads constantly for pleasure. English is my real passion. When you’re leading this subject, but also as a teacher, you must have an interest in children’s literature and knowing what the children are talking about, to give them advice around the subject.
What do you enjoy about educating the educators of the future?
I think it’s exciting to work with teachers early in their careers because they have an infectious enthusiasm and excitement; they really come in passionate and wanting to make a difference in the classroom. Whether you’ve been teaching for five years or ten years, when you’re working with trainees, that enthusiasm rubs off on you. Trainees and new teachers have great ideas; a new cohort will always bring something different that you haven’t seen before into the classroom.
How much importance do you feel wider subject knowledge has in teaching a subject’s curriculum?
I think it’s incredibly important. Within the context of a subject, how to teach spelling rules and how to embed different elements of grammar and comprehension, wider subject knowledge is always vital. Additionally you need the overall context of what you are teaching to understand how it fits in to everything else a student is learning, in order to teach children about why it’s important. Ultiimately you need the children to understand how they’re going to use their reading skills in the future and why reading is so important for their life chances. Framing reading and writing in exactly that way is so important. A teacher needs that understanding to help them to become really passionate about the subject. I think even if it’s things like having a good knowledge of children’s literature, having that understanding as a teacher enables them to steer them towards specific books, which might be the first book they read, which might enable them to fall in love with reading.
I think reading is a gateway to other subjects and I think that’s the something really important to teach children. Beyond the mechanics of phonics and reading fluency, reading is all about how to gain information from a text. This enables children to gain understanding and values and to explore different worlds.
What do you consider essential qualities in a good teacher?
I think compassion towards children is essential. Teachers need to be like therapists and social workers and listen to the children. You must be that adult who is consistent and who’s always there for them. So compassion for the children is important, but also compassion for yourself. I think trainee teachers especially are often quite hard on themselves and can hold themselves to quite high standards. So compassion for yourself and understanding when you need a break is important so that you can support the children to make the best progress.
I think willingness to learn and develop is important too. One must be willing to look at different research and move forward and develop different skills, because we’re always learning. Everything is always changing. If you look at like edtech, for example, which in the time that I’ve been teaching has just changed so much. So, I think that willingness to learn is vital.
Patience with the children and also with yourself is essential, because you’re not going to be an perfect at everything straight away. It takes time and that dedication and constant work.
Which areas of Primary English could be most challenging for trainee teachers?
There are a lot of different ways to teach children how to construct sentences and how to build vocabulary. All those things will come. But you need that first instance, where children become excited to learn. Developing a culture within your classroom where children want to be readers and writers and to explore different books. Creating an environment in which children want to show you their writing, to develop it and learn from it themselves. I think that kind of intrinsic motivation is probably the most challenging aspect.
How did your own teachers inspire you?
I can think of of two teachers in particular who were both very fun, they built a good relationship with the class. I can particularly remember that I would really enjoy their lessons.
One of the two would go off on some ridiculous tangents that I still remember today. I think she taught me philosophy and she asked the whole class questions like ‘what happens when we run out of space for/graveyards?’; that’s such a good question! I was about 17 at the time. She was great, she was really fun.
The other teacher taught me English when I was doing my GCSE and she taught our class ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It was great because she’d grown up in the American South; so as we were reading this book – which I’d already read and I already loved – she would pause and give us this great extra information about the context or how it related to what she’d experienced growing up in Alabama. She’d also talk to us about the author (Harper Lee) and her relationships with other people of that time. She had a fantastic wealth of knowledge.
What are you looking forward to about the start of the academic year?
I’m really looking forward to meeting the trainees and starting to build those relationships. The e-Qualitas team and I have put a great deal of time and effort and into our ITT curriculum, making it evidence based and impactful. I am really looking forward to seeing the curriculum go out and having an impact in classrooms. I’m also looking forward to working with the mentors and supporting trainees in schools.
I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that the trainees make through the year, because it’s always so lovely to see when trainee teachers suddenly become confident teachers and have that presence in the classroom.