Podcast: Pippa Totraku and teacher training
Pippa also talks about the rewards of teaching as a profession and the new found appreciation for teachers, after lockdown forced many parents to home school for the first time.
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Richard – Hello, welcome to the University of Brighton podcast, I’m Richard Newman. This is the podcast which catches up with academic staff and students at the university and goes into detail about some of their specialist areas. Today, my guest is Pippa Totraku, principal lecturer and lead for planning and admissions in the School of Education and Pippa’s, a former teacher, a graduate from Brighton too and clearly with things the way they have been for much of the first half of the year. A lot of us have gained a new appreciation of teaching with home schooling. Thanks, so much for coming on the podcast. This get to know you a little bit better first. So, let’s start with the role now that you have at the university. What does that involve?
Pippa – Ok, so I think you say currently, but I’ve been here for the last 17 years and how many rolls in that time. I’m a principal lecturer teaching on subjects as primary computing. I teach the undergraduate students and the postgraduates teaching students. Plus, I also teach education studies. But as you said in your intro, my main role is admissions into the school of education and initial teacher education. So I have the pleasure to work with and lead a team of really experienced, talented, simply wonderful colleagues and the head teachers who help me in finding those with the potential to train, to teach and become outstanding teachers. So to give you a little bit of an idea of numbers, and that’s approximately three hundred and fifty interviews we conduct on just our primary education routes. And overall, within the school, we take about 600 students each year.
Richard – So a lot of responsibility. Let’s get to know a bit more about your background as well. So, you were a teacher and you trained at Brighton.
Pippa – Ok, so, yes, I trained at the University of Brighton and graduated in 2000, but getting to that point was quite hard. I left school, a local school with only one GCSE. I think I could have been described at the time as a challenging child. Very good athletically representing the southeast in London, getting perfect votes for handsprings ballroom dancing, disco dancing champion, but not academic gifted at the time. And I left school at 16. I had various careers until I was 21. And then I married a Marine and moved to the States and toured around the states for four years. But I returned to the UK as a single mother in need of support, benefits and housing. And at the time it looked it seemed really bleak. My future seemed really, really bleak. And I knew I needed in order to support and help my child with an education myself. So I went back to school. I did night school, I took my GCSE and then I took an access course, both college and university were truly, life changing experience is for me. I love the University of Brighton. I love the hope that it gave me for seeing my potential and letting me train to teach university itself was actually quite challenging itself. It was a struggle to study and raise a child at work, but the tutors were really understanding and supportive. And what I lacked in academia at the time, I made up with hard work, perseverance, resilience and determination. So after I graduated, I taught locally, but not for long before I was drawn back in to start a Masters. And that led to visiting, lecturing and then having a position at the university.
Richard – Well, OK, so that I mean, an amazing, incredible way to turn your life around. As you were describing there. What was it about teaching when did you decide that teaching was for you?
Pippa – I think it was through having a child, it was through realizing the opportunities that the teaching gave me and at college we had to present some things and explain some things. And somebody said to me, you’d be really good as a teacher.
Richard – What made you decide in the end to start concentrating on training teachers to work to do visiting lecturing to come back to the university rather than working in schools, where did that sort of start to take over for you?
Pippa – I think that was because I had an Ofsted inspection in the school and they watched an I.T. lesson that I was teaching and the way that I incorporated it into my teaching, I was the first year out of university with any I.T. training in two thousand. Right. And I was seen as an expert because I could text wrap in word and produce a banner from publisher. I mean, it was just the expectations were so low at the time and they’re so different with coding and computational thinking that we now teach primary age children. But I think it was that it was successful in teaching in school and really realizing that I could teach this to others.
Richard – Yeah, we’re going to come back to you and I think touching on what you were talking about just now a minute in terms of mature students and how people might look for a career change, you’re going to come back to that in a bit. It’s been a really strange year so far. I mean, that’s a bit of an understatement. And as I said in the intro, so many parents have been given an insight into what it’s like to teach with the home schooling during lockdown. And even then, you know, only a tiny bit of it because they’re still being set work from their schools. Do you think now even more so than before, there is this newfound appreciation of teachers?
Pippa – You know, I think, you know, the importance of teachers and respect to the profession that they do in schools has found new found respect, I mean, currently there are just under half a million teachers in the UK and 34000 needed every year to train to teach. That’s roughly the size of the Royal Navy, which I’m told at every event I go to. And whilst the teachers are not key workers, I think they are enabled and supported key works to continue in their vital roles. And I had many comments from teachers that said to receive thank you from key-workers saying how grateful they are knowing that their child was in a supportive environment, having fun and learning while they were able to focus on those challenging roles. And I think, you know, speaking to teachers, they say that teaching is probably the most difficult job that anyone can have, but also most rewarding. From March to September, many parents found themselves pulling coronavirus triple duty. They were having to work. They were having to parent and they were having to teach from home. And I think this is what’s given this newfound respect. You know, we had to adjust these working patterns, you know, working from home, having new systems. These took longer hours. We had to repurpose bedrooms and make them into offices and parenting, we had to establish these new boundaries when working at home, allowing us to have some peace and quiet while getting on with our work without distraction. And then we had to talk to our children about these really challenging situations that they faced in terms of schooling, in terms of their social lives, in terms of not being able to speak to their family members and juggling work and parenting. And then on top of that, having to teach our children was really difficult and lacking resources, keeping children engaged and focused while you’re trying to work and trying to parent and not always having them on the screen, keeping them active. And then for the older children, it was subject knowledge that parents lacked in order to be able to teach their child. So I think all of these factors and more have helped to create a new found respect for the teaching profession.
Richard – Yeah, absolutely. And I think from the other point of view, more inevitably, we’re talking about the importance of teachers is being realised. And when we talk about students, especially now in years like 11 and 13 or the last year college, so facing GCSE or A-levels, how much of a challenge is it going to be for them maybe to get up to speed with, maybe some of that disruption that they felt during the end of the last school year.
Pippa – I think it is very challenging for them because it’s new ways of working ways of learning online and not being able to have those impromptu conversation with their peers when they get stuck. I know schools are being really flexible and us as a university, we’re being really flexible about our admissions process and understanding that the challenges they face are when they come to apply. You know, we take audience into consideration.
Richard – How important do you think it is then because of all that, that schools don’t close again? I mean, clearly the priority from the government seems to be that schools should be the last thing to close to. How important is it that they can we continue as we are at the moment?
Pippa – I think it’s really important, actually, because it’s not just about their academic progress, it’s about keeping children safe and secure. It’s about giving them routine. It’s about their social skills. It is much more than academia. It’s about giving them predictable predictability in a time when things are unknown and things are challenging.
Richard – Yeah. How much admiration, then, do you have for the teachers who are in schools at the moment, teaching during this pandemic and the children as well for their resilience?
Pippa – You have to have a lot of respect for them, don’t you, because they’re the ones that are going in and putting themselves in that situation. In my daughter’s school, there’s been a couple of cases of covid and children in that bubble being sent home. I think it’s incredibly and I have nothing but admiration for them for going in and continuing to do the job. It’s such a hard time.
Richard – It’s a horrible time for many people in jobs. And there are a lot of people who may be thinking about retraining a career change maybe, or just hit upon a light bulb moment during lockdown and thought, I want to be a teacher. And do you think there is maybe more interest at the moment in people doing the.
Pippa – Yes, I was reading an article from July in the Times Educational Supplement, and it reported on a new analysis by the Education Institute, which showed that since the start of lock down, twenty one and a half thousand graduates had applied to teacher training. That was a sixty five percent rise from the five-year average, which was helping to close the gap in teacher training recruitment for the first time in eight years. The analysis attributed the rise in applications to fears of coronavirus causing an economic downturn, who would normally pursue a different career, were attracted to the job security and stable wages that teaching offered also an increase in teachers starting salaries, which could play a part in an increased number of applications.
Richard – Do you think there may be a situation over the coming years where we maybe do see more mature students looking to retrain as a teacher?
Pippa – We have started to read applications at the moment and we are seeing people from very different backgrounds, we’ve seen those that have travel industry experience. We’ve even in a couple of pilots with applications.
Richard – Yeah. What about from your experiences as someone then that came in as a mature student that where you feel like everything may be against you as well, where you feel like things aren’t quite going your way and it feels like it’s difficult to retrain because of the commitments that you might have. And so you were in a really good position to answer this, I guess, for people that feel like it’s just going to be too much. What would you say to them? Because I know the university is very supportive when it comes to supporting students who have caring responsibilities and other responsibilities outside of their studies.
Pippa – Have no doubt that it is hard work out if you’re prepared to put in the hours, it is possible there are many parents on a course who trained to teach and do so really successfully. And I think that has something to do with the way that they are able to manage time and divide their time out and commit to and stick to those times so that if something happens like your child gets a cold or they’re suddenly ill, you you know, you’ve got extra time to be able to do that. So I think what mature students are really good at doing, apart from commitment and clear focus, is about managing their time. They’re really committed to it.
Richard – Yeah. And when you do get to come and study at Brighton Placements, obviously a huge part of the courses we’ve had Sarah Fitzjohn Scott’s on in the past before discussing the partnerships that we have with schools and these to listen back to that one in our back catalogue. How much is the practical element a big thing with what we offer here, Brighton?
Pippa – Ok, so the teaching degree is almost in two parts you have, for example, by owners in primary education or you have PGC and they’re on the other side, you have QTS qualified teaching status. So PGC primary students spend two thirds of the course on school-based training. So during university based training, they’re engaged with theory. So how children develop and learn policy and then they put and the practice and force them to apply both subject related understanding that they’ve developed with the pedagogic skills that they’ve been taught at university. And this ensures that the children in their care and their class enjoy learning and make progress. So in the university, we help teachers to develop their teaching identity. So the kind of teacher they want to be and want to become to help them to develop their beliefs, their philosophy, their values about teaching. And because we work with over 600 partnership schools and colleges and settings, we can offer varied placements in small rural schools or multiple elementary schools, forest schools or church schools. And it’s this, you know, with each of these each of these schools have their own ethos and beliefs about teaching and learning. They’re very different. And our students get the opportunity to see what kind of school they can see themselves working in and what kind of school fit with their belief about education.
Richard – And a great opportunity for them and to hone their practical skills that they can go in and be the teachers that we all want them to be as well. I mean, clearly, you’re so passionate about teaching. So I guess here’s an opportunity to pitch to us, to pitch to the listeners. Why should someone consider becoming a teacher?
Pippa – Ok, I’ve got 10 for you, OK?
Richard – Wow, OK, so we didn’t expect that.
Pippa – I’m just going to give you these top 10. So no two days are the same, but you won’t get bored every day is different. There’s lots of variety teaching and learning, new new topics and new class every year. Children are fun to with. I mean, they will make so laugh until you cry and they will make you cry. That is such an energising environment. You’ll be engaged in creative ways of. Number two, you get to learn as well as teachers like teachers are lifelong learners who relish the chance to evolve and grow. They love learning and want to share this with everyone. It’s infectious. And you get to learn from the children and you get to see life through a new point of view. Teaching makes a real visible difference. You can actually see it. And most applications I read talk about wanting to make a difference in the community. Get to see that physical spark, that recognition on a child’s face as they finally get something due to your teaching. You can work all over the world. So training to teach is a highly transferable skill and with QTS you’ll be able to work pretty much anywhere in the world. Number five, you have long summers, good wages and a great pension and a job security that always be a need for teachers. Seven. It’s highly sociable. Your work is part of team with parents, outside agencies. 8, I am almost there at the same time you have independence, you’ll be in charge of your own classroom. You make decisions about how you layout the furniture, how you adapt your teaching for the individual needs of the children. I’ve got to point out, there’s no blueprint for a perfect teachers. All teachers are unique and different and talented, just like the children in their class. No.9, this is my favourite one, it is the intangible rewards. It’s the little things. It’s the things I cherish about teaching is the funny things children say things that they do, the questions they ask and the way that they see the world. And they are the treasures that I take with me from the teaching job another time. Don’t take my word for it. Get out there, see for yourself. Go into school, talk to a teacher about the job. And also and just as importantly, what do they find challenging?
Brilliant I mean, I don’t even think anyone could put that any better. So good. OK, so those are some incredible benefits and the reasons to become a teacher, I mean, that would convince a lot of people to do that, I think. What is it then about studying at Brighton that you believe puts it above some of the others in terms of students wanting to come and study teaching here?
Pippa – I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve been training teachers for over a hundred years, that’s a long time. That’s a wealth of experience. I think it has something to do with the specialist facility in teaching rooms that we have in where you will have hands on experience of playing with some of the equipment that you use in a primary classroom. For example, in mathematics, you will have Deane’s rods compare bears, multi-link, all different kinds of resources. And in the art rooms, you’ll get to experience and play with some of those tiles making, batik, all different kinds of art techniques. So it’s that practical experience that you get at Brighton that you can then take out into the classroom. How about the Open Learning Centre within the 30000 resources for trainee teachers, number 15 in the Times, education league tables for education courses and No.15 for education, I think is in The Guardian. I can’t quite remember off my head, but pretty good.
Richard – And I guess the thing you say we brought up maybe in a conversation that I had with Sarah in the podcast before, one of the things about wanting to become a teacher is you have to be all in. There’s not a half-hearted. You have to be all in. Is that right?
Pippa – It’s yeah, it’s really hard work, but it’s enjoyable, hard work, you get to experience it all again, but this time from a mature perspective. So you get to try out all these ideas. But it’s a lot of responsibility, you know, not just in terms of academia, in terms of pastoral care, in terms of looking after children. And yet that can be quite challenging.
Richard – And then what do you think it is that really puts teaching apart from other professions? What’s the one thing that you might have to pick one from your top 10? Maybe the one the one thing that really for you makes it the profession above all, that is. This would be a personal thing, I imagine.
Pippa – I think it’s the opportunity to continue to learn and not just teach children, learn from children. I think it’s that combination of teaching and learning and learning from the children.
Richard – We’re going to put a lot of information about School of Education in the podcast description. You can also find out more at Brighton.ac.uk Away from teaching Pippa. You were very active during lockdown with the effort to help out the NHS and putting your sewing skills to good use. Tell us a bit about what you were doing?
Pippa – Ok, so on the news report, I saw a community group of sewers talking about how they were contributing to PPE shortages. So I joined a local group operating out of Eastbourne with my mum. We made 30 sets of scrubs, 20 sets of matching hearts and gingerbread nurses as thankyous I learned to use and overlocker, which is a specialist machine that sews and binds and cuts edge So other than banging on my saucepan eight p.m. on a Thursday night, it is kind of a small way to help out.
Richard – Yeah, incredible thing to do. And the hearts you are making that say it must be an incredibly emotional thing to do as well. Could you sort of just explain what the what the thinking behind the hearts.
Pippa – At the time of the biggest eating of the virus, loved ones couldn’t be with their family or their members as they passed. So the idea was one heart was with the person in hospital and the other half went to the family member.
Richard – Did you have a lot of feedback about that?
Pippa – Yes, from the nurses in the hospital and from the hospital, I got a thank you note from the nurses that was handing out lovely things.
Richard – A lovely thing to do, really just an amazing thing and just brilliant to volunteer to do all that. And at the end of each podcast, we ask questions completely away from your work. So just a little bit of fun. That is the same that we ask each guest. So I’m sure you’ve done your prep. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Pippa – Don’t compare yourself with others to the extent that it stops you trying to achieve your dreams. It’s taken me a long time to have confidence in the fact that I am good enough. I come with my own unique set of skills and talents, which are just as great as those who I hold at work in high regard.
Richard – Great. That’s pretty good advice, if you could pick any other subjects to study at the University of Brighton. What would you choose?
Pippa – When I applied for teacher training, I also applied for midwifery, although I didn’t actually get an interview, so maybe midwifery.
Richard – Another course, were extremely strong at the University of Brighton. Can you pick a favourite place in Sussex?
Pippa – Yes, I can. It’s Wooding Dean where I live. Absolutely nothing special to look at or to visit, but it holds everything special to me. So all my family all twenty one of us live here. The schools are here I am the committee member of a local horticultural group. So I’ve got a strong sense of community and belonging here.
Richard – And if you could give visitors to Brighton and the area a tip of what to do or experience maybe over a weekend and maybe back when we can do whatever we want to do, what might that be?
Pippa – I think you can do this to anyone, anything stopping you today is the weather. So on a warm day, I’d like a picnic and head down to Rottingdean Beach for a spot of rock pooling. However, last weekend we went on a walk on the cookoo trail and the canopy was beautifully autumnal in colour. Plus there were oodles of Slowes for Gin flavourings.
Richard – Great. Tell us something interesting about you, which a lot of people may not know.
Pippa – Ok, so I hold many awards and trophies, horticulture, I have two medal which are from the Royal Horticultural Society for the most points in show. So I grow flowers and fruit for competition. And my latest obsession is lithops and they are a kind of succulent. And I now have over 100 of these and I belong to the British Cactus and Succulent Society. And I’m really surprised actually by the number of retired lecturers are part of this group.
Richard – Oh, really? OK. And if you’re watching if you’re listening to this version, then head over to YouTube and you can you can see the succulents that that paper’s been showing up to us there. And finally, if you can pick three people to host at a dinner party, past or present to not know, including your family, who would they be and why?
Pippa – Ok, Sir David Attenborough, his programs are full of awe and wonder and the impact humankind are having on the Earth. I grew up watching these with my family there and I now watch these with my children. Fascinating man to have. I would have Ricky Chavis because he’s a comedy genius. He makes me laugh until I cry. And we all need a bit of that at the moment, I think. Yeah. And the finally the person I would have is Jesus. He might not show up, but depending on whether he was real or not. But I would like to sit back and enjoy the conversation and watch the three of them talk.
Richard – Yes, it would be an interesting dinner party. I’d like to be a fly on the wall on that one. And especially I think Ricky Gervais is an atheist. That’ll be an interesting conversation. Thanks, so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. Really appreciate it and you can find out more about our teaching courses via the link in the podcast description or visit brighton.ac.uk We’ll be back next week. Thanks for listening.