June 26, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
The following post originally appeared on Rory Gallagher’s (@EddieKayshun) blog, ‘Who I am, What I do’. You should go and have a read – here! Read the blog and contribute yourselves – it is a fantastic collection of stories.
I am from a fairly typical (if there is such a thing) Irish family. Both my parents are university educated and in fact met whilst at university in Ireland. My father was training to be a priest and my mother was studying Theology when they met. Needless to say the priesthood became an unlikely destination for my father when news broke that I was on my way in to the world. I was the instigator of a scandal that surrounded my parents, one it turned out, that was to never disappear. I was born in Dublin in 1984 and over the next ten years I was joined by a brother and two sisters. In 1989 my parents decided to emigrate to the UK. For the next 14 years of my life I led a fairly nomadic existence.
I attended 4 different primary schools and 5 different secondary schools. The word ‘stability’ did not feature in the family vocabulary when I was growing up. Some of the school moves came from the simple reason of moving house, others came from my mother being unhappy about the quality of education being offered by a particular school. One defining moment came during a Geography field trip in Year 12. I was working away measuring rivers and running up and down sand dunes, blissfully unaware that the work was somewhat pointless. A phone call home to ‘check in’ was made and I was informed that the family would be moving out of London a year earlier then planned and that I would have to complete my A Levels in a different school in a different part of the country. In the end it turned out that I would have to start my A Levels again from scratch. I developed the ability to fit in well and make friends easily, and despite the lack of stability in my education I learnt a huge amount about places and people.
The biggest impact on my education came when my parents separated and then subsequently divorced. Our family was made homeless as a result and we fled to Ireland with whatever we could fit in to a few suitcases. The next 3-4 years were the highlight years of the instability that characterised my childhood. My mother, my 3 siblings and myself moved regularly, from one womens refuge to another and from Ireland back to London. During this time education was the least of my concerns. Although I did relatively well at school, I had very little desire to learn or challenge myself. I coasted along in school, never getting in to any major trouble and never performing so badly that I was a cause for concern for teachers. I mention this instability not out of a desire for sympathy, but because it did have a huge impact on my philosophy on education and my principles as a teacher.
It was at university that I really caught the learning bug. I studied Ecology at Lancaster University. I had always had an interest in nature. From watching Attenborough to reading Gerald Durrell and Colin Dann. I loved to watch the world around me develop and was fascinated by all different forms of wildlife. Lancaster was the perfect place to study Ecology. On the doorstep of the Lake District, every week we were out walking up one hill or another, visiting different sites of ecological interest, spotting different forms of wildlife and settling down in the pub afterwards to discuss the days events. I was unusual at university (as well as everywhere else I suppose!) in that I think I only missed one lecture in the 3 years I spent there. I loved to listen, to absorb the knowledge and ideas that were being presented. I fell in love with Science and I knew that it was a love that would never diminish.
It was whilst at sixth form that I decided that I was going to be a teacher. I can’t recall any particular moment where I knew I was going to become a teacher. No lightening bolts or divine interventions. I just knew. I was the eldest of four children at home, so was always, in one way or another, in teacher mode as I was growing up. Whilst in sixth form I worked with my form tutor one afternoon every couple of weeks acting as teaching assistant. I enjoyed working with the younger year groups in class, but also loved the creativity of preparing resources. Having a clear idea of the path I was going to be taking helped me enormously.
My first real experiences of teaching came whilst at University. I knew that I would need some experience before applying for a PGCE and so I volunteered in two local primary schools in Lancaster. I worked for one day a week for two years in these schools. It was an eye opening experience. It was here that I first saw the stresses and strains of the job. I experienced the roller-coaster of emotions that comes with being a teacher and I absolutely loved it. I was primarily involved in helping to deliver Science lessons to Year 3 and Year 5, but I would muck in with anything that was going on. The teachers I worked with were enthusiastic and generous with their time. They were an inspiration. I will always remember walking through Lancaster on a weekend and hearing a pupil from the school I was volunteering in shout out, ‘Hello Mr Science’. Although I loved the experience in the primary schools, I knew that I wanted to be able to delve in to the details of my subject as part of my job, and so applied for a Secondary Science PGCE.
I began my PGCE course at Oxford Brookes University in 2006. My tutors at Oxford Brookes were inspiring and influenced me a great deal. They emphasised the benefits of taking risks in your teaching practice. They argued that teachers should continuously push themselves and should always strive to be better. They emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind when it came to pedagogy, and also in our relationships with pupils and colleagues. My tutors at Oxford Brookes also encouraged us to take a very holistic approach to education. We learnt that we would need to see our role as a teacher as more than just someone who tries to educate pupils about our own particular subjects. We should be aiming to encourage a love of learning in our pupils so that they could achieve their full potential in life. These lessons have stayed with me and have had a huge impact on my teaching philosophy and on the way I develop my career.
Since completing my PGCE course I have had many wonderful opportunities and have taught in 3 wonderfully different schools. I have worked in a single-sex grammar school, a suburban converter-academy and an inner-city comprehensive school. I have learnt an incredible amount in each of these schools, and been inspired by numerous people working in these schools. Two years in to my career I experienced a relationship break down that had a huge impact on me and I decided to take some time out from teaching. I spent 3 months travelling around New Zealand. It was an important time for me personally, but it also saved my career. I was anticipating leaving the profession and becoming a social worker once I had come back to the UK. I applied for the Masters course and was ready to get going. Whilst travelling you meet all manner of people and inevitably talk about yourself a great deal to these people. I found myself telling the people I met that I was a teacher and would often tell stories of all the amazing things I had seen, heard and done in the short time I had been doing the job. After a while it occurred to me that I would miss being a teacher more than anything. Teaching has become more than just a job for me, it is my passion. I have realised that it is one of the few things in life that I am actually half competent at. I couldn’t really do anything else, and wouldn’t want to be anything else either.I am happily stuck with teaching, and hopefully teaching is happily stuck with me.