'The Welsh were born to teach'
A drama teacher who lifted a prestigious Plato at the national Teaching Awards has praised the "born teachers" of Wales.
In an interview with TES Cymru, Natalie Richards also tells of her struggle to find a post and the difficulties of teaching full-time with a small child.
Mrs Richards, 28, who is expecting her second child, was named Outstanding New Teacher of the Year at a star-studded ceremony at the London Palladium last week.
Mrs Richards, a teacher at Bishop Gore Comprehensive School in Swansea, was the first nominee from Wales to win the award in three years.
She was handed her plaque by Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies, whose parents and grandfather were former teachers at Bishop Gore.
Mrs Richards, who has been teaching for three years, thanked her family and school for their support at the ceremony.
She believes her educational background - both parents and her husband are qualified teachers - encouraged her ambition to teach from a young age.
"I liked the idea of passing on my skills but felt that because I wasn't really successful at school, something was holding me back. But I went down the post graduate certificate of education route, and as soon as I did some teaching I realised I could do it if I wanted."
Mrs Richards studied at university while raising her young son, but found it difficult to find a job. She was about to give up when she was finally offered a post.
"If anything does come from me winning this it will be for those who are put off from the profession," she said. "Teaching does get a bad press, but there's so much to enjoy and I think Wales has got born teachers. For me, my university lecturer was so supportive and pushed me. It made me realise I was able to do it. That's what a good teacher does, and I hope I can do it with my pupils."
It is a battle Mrs Richards is winning. She was the only national winner this year to be nominated by a pupil. A short film screened during the award ceremony showed moving testimonies from her pupils. One said: "Being taught by Mrs Richards is an honour and a life-changing experience."
She believes drama can improve children's self-esteem.
"Every lesson they have to reflect and think if they had just focused for one minute they could have done that better.
"At Bishop Gore I think we promote drama in the right way; it's not just about doing plays but learning to appreciate and respect each other."
She is constantly looking for new ways to use drama and is working on cross-curricular links in history and religious studies.
She also has ambitions to set up her own youth theatre, modelled on Cardiff's Sherman Theatre, where she was once a performer.
"I'd like to do it in areas that don't have access to that sort of theatre," she said. "Everyone should have that opportunity."
Watch the Teaching Award winners on The TES website.