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As a GCSE English resit teacher, people often comment that it’s the toughest job in education: teaching a subject to those that don’t want to be there.
Up until last week, I might have agreed with you, but I had a metaphorical beam of sunlight hit me square in the face that changed my perspective.
Friday afternoon, 3pm, GCSE English. This group had previously shown no interest in the subject and given the day and time of their lesson, no interest in learning.
I made no secret of the fact that I knew their feelings and seeing some of them roll their eyes at asking them to read a short extract, I reminded them of this point. The last thing I was expecting was their response: “But we do want to learn!”
'The hardest battle has been won'
So while I do teach the odd reluctant student, I aim for more than just teaching them English skills. I try to give them new perspectives through active discussion on topics they might never encounter otherwise.
The group mentioned above have even requested a lesson featuring Brexit as the theme. I see eager minds open to new ideas (learning by stealth) and often encounter them in a way that their vocational teachers might never experience.
How does all of this make a difference? I try to build confidence in every one of my learners in a subject that they have failed and (to some extent) hate.
I know that not every one of my students will be successful in any given year but if they can pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get back into the classroom, the hardest battle has been won. I coach, assess, feedback, listen, console and counsel.
Students more aware of importance of English
A significant number of students that I teach aim to go to university. Not only is GCSE English an essential qualification for most courses, but it also gives them the opportunity to work on their academic writing and develop independent study skills.
For those seeking employment after college, it’s no surprise that given the current economic climate that more employers are looking for good GCSE grades. Students are more aware than ever that English is important, and I have a duty to support and coach them to achieve their best, no matter what their next step.
One student from last year stands out for me. Their personal circumstances had prevented them from completing their GCSEs at school the previous summer and they came to the college in January, tentatively enquiring if they were able to enrol onto English and maths with a view to joining full-time in September.
Happily, this was arranged and this student passed English with a grade 5 (equivalent to a high C or low B), having not started in my class until the end of January. This learner is now studying towards a BTEC in business, so if you were to ask me if my job makes a difference – you bet it does.
'They embrace English'
I love teaching GCSE English because it brings me into contact with such a wide range of learners from different backgrounds. Just today, I have taught students from business, performing arts, catering, animal care and science.
When I talk to them about their achievements in their vocational areas, they speak with such joy and in the case of caterers and performers normally invite me to visit them to try their food or watch their shows.
The fact that they embrace English as part of their college experience to that extent always makes me feel proud.
I love teaching my adult learners. Their motivation is different and their choice to return to study makes me see them in a different light. I know myself that juggling part-time study and full-time employment is tough, so tackling a subject they consider themselves to be “a bit rubbish” at is commendable.
'None of my lessons feel like a chore'
I love the autonomy I have in teaching my learners and the trust my college places in me to do my job. As a result, none of my lessons feel like a chore – discussions are often lively and take place in a secure environment with mutual respect at the forefront of everything we do.
I love that I have learners fresh from school, those that are progressing within the college and those that have previously studied functional skills in the same lesson. The range of understanding breeds peer support and a collaborative working environment that is often overlooked in education.
Ultimately though, I love working in a college and I love teaching GCSE English resits because, despite what so many of them say, they do “want to learn”.
Matt Corke is a GCSE English teacher at a college in the West Midlands