Having been in the military for almost 24 years, Tony Grogan was ready to take on a new challenge. Excited by the prospect of helping the next generation achieve their goals, he embarked upon a career in teaching.
“For me, it was the right time in my life to change career and take on a new challenge. Teaching presented the opportunity to do something that was rewarding and genuinely made a change to my community and wider society. I have always tried to have the ethos of making a positive difference and in teaching you get to do that on a daily and hourly basis in every lesson.”
Tony gained his teaching qualification with LJMU and our School Direct Partner, Turton School in Bolton – where has been teaching KS3 to A level history for two years now. Moving from a career he was comfortable with to something completely different wasn’t without challenges. On his first day in front of his class of pupils, he experienced a full range of emotions:
“I was nervous that I would not be up to the job and the students would see through me, or not take me seriously, however that was outweighed by excitement for the profession I was entering. By the end of that first day I was pleased, proud and exhausted, but ready for more.”
Despite his initial, and natural, first-day jitters, Tony felt he was well prepared for his new teaching career:
“LJMU gave me the confidence to face the classroom early my training year and make progress quickly. I remember my University tutor often saying, ‘You are not a trainee teacher, you are a teacher undergoing training’. That gave me huge confidence.
“I was encouraged to try new things in the classroom, to take controlled risks and test out new ideas. This meant my teaching progressed much quicker than I expected and I completed my training year in a strong position. Evidence of this for me was very early in my NQT year when I had an unexpected informal observation by my headteacher and a teaching consultant/author. The author wanted to check I really was an NQT and not a teacher with a few years under my belt. I would like to take the credit for that but in reality it was down to the guidance and support my own tutor and mentors had given me.”
But like any on-the-job training experience, not every day is smooth sailing no matter how prepared you are:
“There was a moment during my training that I felt a lesson had been awful. I felt deflated, confused and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. It is at those points your mentor steps in and I remember the 6pm call reassuring me it was ok, it was normal to have those lessons and that I would learn more from that than I ever would from a bland ‘ok’ lesson. Those words were true and whilst, thankfully, never a regular occurrence, I did learn much more when the lesson went slightly off track and I had to work hard to bring it back.”
“The relationships with students can be rewarding, seeing them grasp complex ideas, forming their own ideas and then articulating them to you is amazing.”
Surprisingly, Tony’s vast military experience comes in handy when it comes to teaching pupils.
“My military experience taught me never to see the obvious answer, always to dig deeper and look under the surface for the real answers. It has also taught me to recognise that we are all facing challenges every day and that includes students. Teenagers are simply doing their best; they might make what appears to be irrational decisions in the classroom but when you pause and look closer, their reasons become clear. Simply listening and allowing students to express themselves can have great results.
“There is certainly no place for the Drill Sergeant in a school. A calm, considered and respectful approach is needed.”
Tony’s tips for teachers in the making
1. Visit more than one school as each has its own feel and style. Speak to staff and do not be afraid to ask questions during those visits
2. Don't worry if you feel there are gaps in your subject knowledge. There are courses you can take to fill the gaps. Plus, you’ll get the support of your mentor and wider department to fill other gaps over time. Just approach the training with a positive attitude and be willing to learn
3. Ignore the negative stories. For every negative story there are many positive stories and those are the ones to focus on. You are looking at joining one of the most rewarding professions on offer, embrace it and enjoy that journey. Be proud. You are going to be teacher!
If you’re interested in a career in teaching, the Initial Teacher Training programme at LJMU was rated the best in Merseyside by Ofsted; find out what courses are on offer within the School of Education.