Earlier this week, the Further Forces programme was formally launched, offering military service-leavers the chance to train to become teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) in FE colleges. The transition from the armed forces to further education is one I've already made – and it's a decision I don't regret for a second.
I came into teaching after completing a two-year post at the Royal School of Artillery near Salisbury. The regiment's centre for personal development had introduced a programme to improve the quality of instruction while giving us a civilian qualification. My plan – and you have to have one – was to complete a business and leadership management degree via distance learning through Northumbria University, followed by my diploma in teaching.
I also took it upon myself (with the consent of my regiment) to work voluntarily at a local school as a teaching assistant one day a week. Not only did I get to see some outstanding teachers, and pick up new and innovative ideas, but I also figured out very quickly if I was actually cut out to teach and work with young people.
My decision to volunteer at a local secondary school proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made, as it shaped everything that has happened up to now. Teaching or instruction in the forces is different: your lessons have a captive audience, and if your students don’t understand you or give it 100 per cent then there are real-life consequences. The same can’t be said for teaching in a school or a college.
'One of the hardest things I've ever done'
I left the Army and continued to work at the school. I completed my QTLS with the former Institute for Learning (IfL) and, with this qualification, I applied to teach maths there. To my ultimate surprise, they said yes. The school sent me on a teaching subject specialism training course with a university once a month to enhance my higher-level knowledge, and I spent the remainder of the year teaching key stage 3 maths and as a Year 13 tutor.
This year I have learned so much about teaching, behaviour, time management, how to think outside the box and resilience. It’s been one of the hardest things I have ever done: at times stressful (deadlines, Ofsted), busy, with very long hours spent marking, report-writing and helping with UCAS statements. That said, the feeling you get when 14 Year 13 students all get their first choice universities, and the remainder goes on to apprenticeships or other rewarding careers, simply can't be beaten. I know I have chosen the right career.
So where am I now? I currently work at City College Plymouth teaching GCSE maths, and I am the level 3 core maths lead, working with the age group I most enjoy and get the most out of. I have found that my background has given me a great ability to engage with students, and they respect the change I have made from soldier to maths tutor. I have used my knowledge of life, travel and the fact I have two children at either end of their university courses to help me shape lessons.
Engaging with the 16- to 18-year-olds is key: talking to them about how maths can help in real-life scenarios and in the careers they all hope to pursue is so important. These students have already spent five or more years learning maths and haven’t been successful in their GCSEs – so doing the same thing again just isn’t going to work.
What's more, they certainly won’t engage with it. The time I spent in secondary school also allowed me insight into the type of student arriving at the college doors – what drives them (or what doesn’t), what behaviour to expect, how to deal with mobile phones, moods and the problems teenagers face.
'My most rewarding moments'
Working with the team is easy; it’s something I have done all my life. But bringing new practices from school has been interesting. Perhaps if you have been in FE for a while it’s worth taking a day trip to a secondary school to see what’s new and meet the students of the future.
It would also help to build a partnership with a local school. Solving problems, remaining flexible and being prepared to work with other people are second nature to everyone in the forces, and as this is a second career for us we enter it with fresh ideas, and a drive and enthusiasm to impart them to the rest of the team and to our students.
In truth, teaching is a lot harder than I was expecting. The hours are sometimes longer, with evening classes often finishing at 9pm. But the next morning I'm back in the classroom at 8am (that’s just the way I am). Marking, writing and planning lessons takes up time that’s not part of your daily timetable – not to mention meetings and open evenings.
But the teaching is what it’s all about. Some of my most rewarding moments have been the fantastic conversations I have had with my students about all types of subjects in the news, or their careers, or just helping them with life’s problems. Now, I am waiting with anticipation for exam results day at the end of August. I will finally see if it has all been worthwhile.
Neill Scott is a GCSE maths tutor at City College Plymouth