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Primary Education News
News Why I became a citizenship teacher: to give young people a stake in society
Recent PGCE graduate, Avais Qureshi, has already started his NQT year. He tells Emily Drabble about what attracted him to teaching and his quest to empower young people
My mum's big ambition for me was to get a degree. She is really bright but never got the opportunity to go to university, so that was always my goal when I was at school. My mum's a single parent and lives with the rest of our family in Pakistan. When I was growing up in east London I didn't really know much about different careers. The idea of the great career in my community was computer engineering and most of my friends' parents worked in restaurants.
When I left school I did my A-levels at Sir George Mououx college in Walthamstow. One of them was computer science and that's when I realised I was pretty uninterested in it. But it was there I discovered my passion for politics through my great economics teacher, Barry Reeves. He encouraged me to find out what was going on in the world and I started doing things like watching Newsnight. So I studied economics and politics at Brunel and I got involved in campaigning. When I graduated I became campaign leader of the Muslim Public Affairs committee and worked lots of jobs unrelated to my degree to make money.
I was at a crunch point in my life and needed to find a career. I knew three things. First, I'm people motivated – I get my energy and inspiration from working with other people. Secondly, I love politics and getting people politically active – in my campaigning I gravitated towards mentoring, helping young people develop their ideas. Thirdly, I know that whatever I do I'll try to be the best and learn everything about it.
In August 2011, I became programme officer at Future First, a great organisation that helps state schools set up alumni networks, which are so powerful in public schools. The scheme supports pupils in state schools who don't have connected families, access to people in diverse careers and the awareness or links that more privileged children enjoy – kids just like me. I loved working at Future First and it was a hard decision to leave but I realised teaching was the career I'd been searching for.
I chose a PGCE as my route to teaching because I couldn't get onto Teach First thanks to my less-than-fantastic A-level results, despite having a good degree. By the time I applied, the Graduate Training Programme (GTP) was also full. But actually for me the PGCE was the right way to go because I love to get the theory as well as the practice.
I specialised in citizenship teaching on my PGCE at the Institute of Education under Ben Hammond and Jeremy Hayward, both inspiring tutors. They taught by modelling and we did two long placements. I enjoyed the course so much: teaching just clicked with me, especially when I got into the classroom.
I am passionate about my subject but also find the pastoral side very rewarding – I can't wait to develop that in my job. I particularly enjoyed my second placement in Leytonstone where many of the pupils come from similar backgrounds to me.
Teacher training really hinges on your mentors and I was lucky to have fantastic mentors, who got the balance exactly right, in both schools. It's absolutely critical to your experience as a trainee. A great mentor needs to let you do your own thing or you'll be crippled by your experience, but also guide you – if you are let totally loose that can be disastrous.
That's why the PGCE route worked suited me. Schools-based training doesn't always work so well if they don't really have time to be responsible for you, especially the pastoral side of you as a student. With the PGCE, the institution takes responsibility for that.
I am now citizenship teacher at Barking Abbey school and have been in the job for three weeks before breaking up for the summer. I feel so lucky to have got a job in my specialism.
From day one I took over from a long-term supply teacher and I've been launched into a full timetable. I can tell the students that I'm here to stay for a long time now, I'm not just on practice. For many students this is really important, particularly if they're from backgrounds without much stability because they the need consistency.
It's been a really useful experience to break the ice and meet all my students at the end of term. Now we can launch straight into teaching in September. After three weeks, I've already got a nickname from the students – they call me Mr Terminator because I'm quite 'built'.
Barking Abbey gets fantastic results and my biggest concern is to make sure I'm as good as the school, if not better. Being responsible for A-level and GCSE results that can really affect students' lives is huge. Teaching good and inspiring lessons is one thing, but making sure students who are confident in expressing their views, and can translate that in exams, is vital. My mentors have warned me about not being too hard on myself and having realistic expectations of what I can do as an NQT. I've got to remember that I'm still learning.
For me, citizenship is the most important subject. Young people need to know about politics and what's happening in the world. Everyone has a stake and young people must have their vote and their share, otherwise they are powerless. It's important to help them make their voice heard: secondary school has an amazing opportunity to help young people become great citizens.
Avais Qureshi is a citizenship teacher at Barking Abbey school.