e-Qualitas’ ITT cohort are led by subject-specific leads throughout their teacher training year; Joanna Igoe is our SCITT’s lead for Secondary Science.
As Science Subject Lead, Joanna works with e-Qualitas’ trainees within our Secondary cohort on the School Direct and Teaching Apprenticeship Programmes.
In this short interview, Joanna shares an insight into her teaching and ITT background, as well as her motivations when working with trainee teachers:
(e-Q) What is your background prior to joining e-Qualitas?
(JI) I’ve worked as a science teacher for the over 15 years. I began teaching in Newcastle and then moved to London, where I took a of Head of Science position. I did that for several years, leading teaching, learning and science. I led assessment, quality control and developing teachers.
When I was a Head of Science I led a young team of teachers, which was fantastic as I got to see them grow and develop their skills; this sparked my early interest in ITT. I really enjoyed the career development aspect of working with a young team. I later took on the role of an ITT coordinator, allowing me to work more closely with ITT and I really enjoyed the developmental aspect of it.
I worked with all the career teachers as well as the teacher training and ITT students, which led me to my role as lead practitioner. I wanted to have more impact on the parts of my job that I most enjoyed, which were the developmental aspects of working with teachers to make them think about pedagogy, their lesson practice and about what they’re doing in a lesson and why.
I was a link tutor for science cohorts at Brunel University, delivering science specialism sessions. This included chemistry trainees teaching key stages three, four and five. Chemistry is my specialism, though I delivered several sessions across the year to the science cohort (key stage three) and then specifically to the chemistry ITT cohort for GCSE and A-level chemistry. This saw me designing the curriculum input sessions: five over the course of the year. This was particularly interesting as it gave me a new perspective. The trainees enjoyed it because they were working with a tutor who was so close to the classroom, as opposed to their lecturers who had been out of teaching for some time.
What do you enjoy about educating the educators of the future?
I most enjoy the trainees’ eagerness to learn and develop their skills. Working with people early in their teaching career is a great opportunity to harness their enthusiasm and motivation to give things a go. Trainees respond well to feedback as well as teaching. They know that every day they’re getting better, so to follow their journey is genuinely inspirational; particularly when you guide them to the light bulb moment where all the training falls into place.
For example, if a trainee has been working with a challenging class and hasn’t been getting anywhere for a couple of lessons, you can have a conversation – a mentoring session – and there’s a change in their viewpoint that leads them to try something different that works. It is both motivational and inspirational to be part of moments like that.
I think there’s a lot of work to be done in retention of teachers, particularly in science teaching, ensuring that trainees have a solid understanding of good pedagogy. So, ensuring that they’re not trying out group work that’s not going to work, they’re not trying to get kids to just design posters or use learning style approaches or outdated information. There’s so much opportunity to get people to forge the right path early on, rather than having to do it through discovery.
How much importance does wider subject knowledge have in teaching science?
It is very, very important. I think curriculum delivery is a little like storytelling… and storytelling is very powerful. If you think about the Icelandic sagas that have been passed down through generations for example, or how we all remember stories that we were told as children. Wider subject knowledge allows us to add that hinterland to our storytelling so that we can make bigger connections and can create more impactful stories to teach students the curriculum; to impart our knowledge through a wider and interlinked journey. This allows us as educators to make sure that what we’re telling our students fits. We can see where it fits in the small picture, in the closer, ‘zoomed in’ picture, but also where it fits in the wider picture. We can make links to other subjects, links to the real world and links that fit into students’ daily lives. Without having a wide and varied subject knowledge, I think you’d lead yourself down a very narrow path of curriculum delivery, focusing solely on the national curriculum content.
Which areas of science could be most challenging for trainee teachers?
The most challenging area in science is probably challenging misconceptions that students hold. There are lots of areas in English language where we use terms that have a different meaning in science. For example, when we talk about ‘weight’ and ‘mass’, we’re not talking about the same thing if we’re thinking as a physicist; but we use the terms ‘weight’ and ‘mass’ differently in our daily parlance. So, identifying the misconceptions – not only that the students hold, but that we might hold as well – identifying the language that we use to describe the correct terms in science and ensuring that we are consistent and clear in those explanations.
Regardless of the subject, we must use correct terminology, ensuring we are using it properly. In science, that’s key to identifying misconceptions, ensuring language is used correctly and that explanations are clear and concise. Ensuring that students have that embedded understanding of what we’re talking about, what the vocabulary means: homozygous, homeostasis, equilibrium. These are initially abstract terms that must be embedded for students, if we’re going to enable them to understand what the actual concepts are.
What do you consider to be essential qualities in a teacher?
Patience is a vital quality in a good teacher. You need to have patience with yourself, patience with students, patience with the government sometimes and the changes that you might have foisted upon you. Patience generally is very important.
Teachers need to have passion and enthusiasm for their subject. If you don’t enjoy your subject, it becomes very evident in the lessons that you deliver. For science, it can be challenging because although my degree is chemistry for example, I have taught biology and physics up to A-level. As science teachers we must have a passion for branches of science that we’re don’t necessarily have a background in, you’ve got to have enthusiasm for your whole subject.
I think teachers should have a love for young people, a love for learning and a love for sharing the curriculum journey. I think love is important and undervalued. If you don’t love what you’re doing and you don’t love the students you teach, then you’re not going to be a good educator.
Having a consistent and measured demeanour is important. I think consistency is the most important thing to ensuring that your lessons run effectively, that you’re viewed favourably across the school, by both students and staff.
How did your teachers inspire you in your own education?
Mr. Richardson, my chemistry teacher at A level, was the most enthusiastic chemist I have ever met. The storytelling ability that I talked about earlier, he had it in spades! He’d tell us about wearing polyester trousers and spilling some sulfuric acid on them and how he looked down and it had eaten a hole in them… He did this in the terms of polymerization and hydrolysis, so it was the acid hydrolysis of his trousers and how they broke apart and disappeared in front of his eyes.
I was fortunate enough then to work with him as an NQT; I took my first job that was at the school I attended as a student – and he was still there. It was a genuine privilege to work with him and he was so supportive to me on my early career journey. He would take time to make sure I understood everything that I was teaching. He would give me ideas for how I could teach ideas and concepts. I think it’s because of him that I did my chemistry degree… and then he really helped me on my journey through my NQT.
What do you look forward to about each new academic year?
Every academic year presents new challenges, so approaching things from a completely different angle and being focused entirely on ITT is both exciting and interesting to me. I am always excited to meet the new cohort of trainees, to see who we are going to be working with and the different journeys have led them to teaching. I always enjoy getting to know the trainees and getting a feel for what they hope to achieve by the end of their training. Learning the trainees’ aspirations for the end of the ITT year, the end of their ECT year, or for five years from now is always genuinely interesting to me.