Dr Peter Edmunds discusses his journey to teaching and his experience of the Researchers in Schools training.
Before becoming a RIS participant, I was a post-doctoral research associate at University College London and, later, at Imperial College. While I very much enjoyed my research, I increasingly found myself looking forward to the one afternoon a week that I had teaching responsibilities. I therefore considered ways in which I could increase the amount that I taught.
This prompted me to reflect on my own education. I was lucky to attend a school with some really inspirational teachers, and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their assistance in my early life. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m from a privileged background. Not everybody is lucky enough to have had such high-quality teaching; in fact, it’s a rarity. While researching routes into teaching and the profession itself, I came across the stark statistic that less than 30% of Physics teachers have a degree relevant to the subject. This contributes to the fact that despite the independent sector educating only around 6.5% of school children in the UK, almost half of all science A grades at A-level are awarded to pupils from independent schools.
I therefore turned my attention towards teaching in the state sector. I considered various routes; but I didn’t feel that any catered for my skillset quite like the Researchers in Schools programme. RIS values a PhD graduate’s unique strength – subject knowledge – and helps participants use this to build the foundations of a successful teaching career.
Summer training has been intense, but the RIS team have done a great job at keeping it engaging and fostering a positive, community atmosphere. The first day kicked off with an introductory keynote by The Brilliant Club’s Co-CEO Dr Chris Wilson and later focussed on ice-breaking exercises, including some slightly scary ‘physical activities’ (we all survived…just). Day two involved understanding not only The Brilliant Club more thoroughly, but also other routes into teaching.
Anne-Marie Canning, Director of Widening Participation at King’s College London set the tone for the next two days with a keynote on fair access to university. The Brilliant Club built on this by helping us design our Uni pathways courses, which involves delivering six tutorials (on your own research) to a class of four Year 10 students. This course culminates in a final project, designed to be pitched at one Key Stage higher than the student is currently in. It is also designed to create a supportive environment in which the participating students have the best possible opportunity to attain selection into a highly-selective university. It also includes mentoring on the curriculum when the students reach Year 11.
The final day of the first week was concerned with more practical advice. Dr Richard Branch (2014 RIS participant) gave a keynote, based on his own journey, on learning how to teach and what we might expect from our own transitions. We then had some specific sessions on pedagogy, which included practising our classroom “look”, as well as my particular favourite, peering around an ‘invisible column’. We discussed routines that will make the settling-in process of the first couple of weeks easier and also the differences between teaching at university and at a secondary school.
Summer training so far has been enjoyable, educational and has only served to increase my excitement at embarking on my new teaching career. Seeing first hand the quality of fellow RIS participants has been humbling, and just knowing that you have the support of The Brilliant Club team (which primarily consists of experienced and inspirational teachers) behind you is a great reassurance. The biggest compliment that I can pay to summer training is that I’ll miss being here when it’s over!