‘My journey into teaching took just one of many routes’

Hayley Leys was 'filled with fear' about going to university - but she found another way to become a teacher

‘My journey into teaching took just one of many routes’

As a teen in secondary school, my life was spiralling out of control. I was in a deep state of depression and at the age of 14 attempted to take my own life. I stayed on at school and got through most of my exams, but I had little to no self-belief and turned down a place at a local university, partly due to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at around the same time.

I went to college for three years but didn’t really know where my life was going. I needed some time to find myself and deal with all the issues I had pushed to the back of my mind. After working in social care for a few years, I landed a job in a private school. I was a classroom assistant, but had a couple of lessons a week where I taught the class.

This rekindled my love for teaching. I had always wanted to be a teacher but had been told that I could do “more” with my life. But I didn’t need "more", I needed a career that would make me happy.

Applying for teacher training

In 2016 I decided it was time to take the next step to make that dream come true. I began looking at universities, but every time I looked at the application process I was filled with fear. I wasn’t sure if I was in a place where I could actually attend a university. I stumbled across the Open University (OU) and realised that I could study online from the comfort of wherever worked for me. It was the perfect solution.


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I signed up and applied for my funding and everything just fell into place. I started a new job around the same time, working in a school for children with additional needs, where I managed to gain the experience needed to complete some of the assessments for my degree. Working full-time in a school while completing my degree allowed me to see what I was learning being put into practice. It made it make sense, and I was able to use my new knowledge to support the pupils in the best way possible.

Throughout my degree with the OU I never struggled to find motivation. I knew that if I did not do the work no one would come chasing me, so I remained focused and determined throughout. Being able to dip in and out when I felt like it was positive and made it much easier to study, especially if I was struggling with my mental health. I could take days off if I needed them, which was crucial for me.

I found online forums, where students and tutors could seek and offer advice, a helpful resource: for someone who has social anxiety it was much easier, as most times someone else had already asked the question, so I could just read through the thread and take what I needed. However, there were times when I needed to ask questions and this platform allowed me to do so without fearing what people might say. It also gave me time to process what I wanted to ask.

Completing the BA in education studies (primary) allowed me to gain learn and understand how education is delivered in different countries, how research impacts on the education system, what curriculum looks like, and how it impacts on learning. Most importantly, it sparked a wider interest in exploring just how much a teacher can influence the life of their pupils. All of this made me see that I did really want to become a teacher and I found I had enough confidence to look at my options to get me there.

I am now studying for a primary PGDE (professional graduate diploma in education) at Aberdeen University and have started my first school experience placement – and I’m loving every minute. The courses of study I’ve been going through, starting with the OU, have built up my confidence and knowledge to a level where I was able to not only apply for the PGDE, but go to the interview, accept my place, and walk into my placement school, knowing this was the next stage on the journey I had waited so long to take.

I am so looking forward to having my own class next year – and a lifetime of all the rewards and challenges that teaching offers.

Hayley Leys in a primary teaching student at the University of Aberdeen

For World Teachers' Day 2019, Tes is having a new teacher takeover – every piece published on our website on 5 October will be by a new or early career teacher. Find the rest of the articles at our World Teachers' Day hub

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