Polly Lyon, Trainee History Teacher, used to be the Team Leader for Learning & Access for The Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham, looking after the team that handled all the school visits, public programmes, family activities and the user engagement programme within the gallery and says history is the best subject:
It was great fun and there was always a learning element and community focus but as I gained more responsibility I got to do less with that audience. That made me feel like I wasn’t personally having so much of a positive impact, whereas teaching gives me that opportunity on a daily basis. You might not remember the specifics of what a good, enthusiastic teacher has taught you but you will always remember that teacher as being inspirational because encouraging and fostering enthusiasm is so important.
You’re never ‘just a history teacher’ – you’re involved in a whole range of things that add to the job, some fun, some not so fun. The training is great and even when I’ve felt very scared I’ve had full support. Leaving a paid job, applying for a course rather than a job and, of course, going back to school was all scary. The GITEP staff and all the staff at the school are extremely helpful and supportive and when you start the course you realise that everybody else is going through exactly the same thing so you also start to support each other.
We spent most of the first three weeks in professional studies and I remember thinking that we’d never be ready to be in schools after just three weeks but they really do give you the preparation you need – to the point that, by the time you get into a school you’re chomping at the bit and can’t wait to get submerged in your subject and in with the children and the team. I’m starting to do bits in different lessons and it’ll soon get a lot more full-on.
It’s so different from what I was doing before. It’s still stressful but it has a whole different feel and I think that little bit of fear is important to ensure you give it your best. The children are very forgiving and see us trainees as ‘just another teacher’. We’re all put in with a tutor group so that helps to get to know some of them, their interests and personalities, which also helps in lessons.
History is the best subject because if you can understand the past you have a better chance of understanding what’s going on now. At the moment there are so many things being said in history lessons that could be the news you’ve listened to in the morning and seeing so many parallels makes it’s really interesting and relevant. Looking into your own family history is also fascinating and can make certain moments in history really resonate with you. Military and political history is great but if you add the extra dimension of social history you give people the full picture and have a great story to tell – and who doesn’t love a good story!