Sunday, 18 October 2015

Life: Making The Switch (Sponsored)

Making the switch

It's official: I'm a student again. It's the sort of change I never expected to make, and if someone told me a year ago I would be back at college, studying towards a life-changing career-switching qualification, I would have said they were crazy! But here I am, a mature student in her late twenties. What am I studying? I'm studying to work in the education sector as a teaching assistant. Today, in conjunction with M&S Bank, I'm going to tell you all about what I've been up to, along with some advice and lessons I've learned along the way.

What was your Life Switch and what influenced you to make it?
It all started roughly a year ago. A few months earlier, I'd been made redundant from an administration job. In all honesty, losing my job knocked the stuffing out of me. It left me feeling really down and I found it difficult to get back on my feet. Combined with the local job market being fairly empty, I had no idea what to do. After speaking to a careers advisor about the sort of work I wanted to do (I had decided on coaching/mentoring people to improve their CVs), I was given the suggestion, "Why don't you go and do some work experience at a school?" Within half an hour, I was on my way to a local primary school for an informal interview. Wearing purple jeans. I like to think it worked in my favour, because I was asked to start my placement on the following Monday!

What have been the improvements?
My confidence has improved - it's a lot different to working in an office. I went from working in a small team to helping with a large group of youngsters! Often, you find yourself juggling several different tasks all at once, especially after breaks and lunches, so it's really improved my multi-tasking skills. I've learned a lot about how to use my voice and to be assertive when it's needed. Most importantly, I've learned how to be a positive role model to the students I work with - to be a friendly face and an adult they can trust.

What have you found difficult?
At first, it was hard finding my feet. I wasn't quite sure how to speak to the students - how to prevent an argument or to encourage them to listen. I was worried about being too mean or too lenient! I overcame this by observing the staff I worked with to learn how they handled any situations that came up. I used these techniques in my work, and it really helped me gain confidence. Secondly, the way certain things are taught, for example phonics and numeracy are very different to when I was at school, so it may be a bit confusing at first! If in doubt, ask. It does get easier, I promise!

What’s your one biggest tip to those looking to do the same?
Volunteer! It's the only way to see if teaching assistant work is really for you. The job is incredibly varied. You might be asked to photocopy worksheets or laminate signs for the classroom in the morning, and supervise a library visit in the afternoon. The skills you have from previous roles (such as office work), personal knowledge, and hobbies (photography, for example, or arts and crafts) will also come in handy, as you never know when you'll need to use them. You'll definitely need a positive attitude to work with children - smile and be approachable, not grumpy! And also be willing to join in with activities - this can include singing, drawing, even hula-hooping.

What do you want to have achieved in 5 years time?
Once I have passed my course, I would like to be employed as a teaching assistant. I never knew that giving my time to others would be so fulfilling, and that working alongside a lively and friendly group of kids would be so much fun! I already feel like I've learned so much, and that I would like to continue learning. It's fab.

At the moment, M&S Bank are running a campaign called Make A Switch - pop on over to read other stories about changes other people are making.

Have you ever made a switch in your life? If so, what was it?

This post was written in conjunction with M&S Bank for their Make A Switch campaign. All words are my own!

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