INTERVIEW: TOP TEACHER TIPS, TOOLS AND UNUSUAL GIFTS…
As part of our Thank You Teacher campaign, we spoke with primary school teacher and YouTuber, Katie Tollitt, to find out more about her profession.
Katie shared with us why she became a teacher, the most unusual gift she’s ever received, and a whole heap of useful tips and advice for aspiring teachers everywhere.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
To answer that I have to think back over ten years, which is a real eye-opener for me! Before settling on my A level options and University degree, I had always been a creative person with a passion for design. Ideally, I would have liked to have gone into a job involving technology & media; thankfully you can see many parallels between my first career plan and teaching.
I still get so many opportunities to be creative as a primary school teacher. I knew teacher training would be a great opportunity and chance to help others alongside building a career for myself. Plus, the opportunity to teach abroad had always appealed to me (I made this dream a reality after three years of teaching in the UK by moving to Hong Kong). On reflection, I’m extremely happy with the choices I made. As a teacher, you’re able to let your personality shine through by creating lessons that are interesting, interactive, and inclusive of your passions.
Could you tell us about your route into teaching?
I completed my A levels in Manchester before applying to do a teaching degree at Sheffield Hallam University. My choice was a direct route into teaching (three years, inclusive of my PGCE which teachers often add to the end of an existing degree.) For me, it was the best choice as I was keen to get myself into the classroom as quickly as possible. At the time, I didn't consider how demanding the course would be; it certainly challenged me in many ways, but I’m thankful for the route I took to get where I am today!
What has been your most rewarding moment as a teacher so far?
I know it sounds cliché, but each day has an element of reward as a teacher. There are so many mini-breakthrough moments you have daily; that's what makes the job so interesting! The phrase "every day is different" certainly runs true with this career. You never quite know what a new day will bring, and for someone like myself who enjoys a new challenge, it's the perfect job. If I had to choose a moment? Watching a class of children pull off a show-stopping assembly using a script they wrote independently. I felt like a proud mum of 30 cheering from the side-lines!
What are the five things you can’t manage without in the classroom?
If I don't take a mindful minute to fill out my diary at the start of the day, I can't function. I use a planner to record my thoughts and have done this since I started teaching in 2013. I have my favourite apps, websites and online resources organised on my desktop for easy access. A sturdy rucksack enables me to comfortably transport everything I need from A-B (teacher bags are full of all-sorts), and I have to acknowledge my Edubox curriculum lanyard. It's useful for days when you need to check up on your teaching targets, but you'd prefer not to spend time staring at a computer screen.
Finally, my teacher Instagram page @ForTeachers keeps me sane; never underestimate the positive impact an online community can have on your day-to-day activities as an educator. These passionate individuals share the most creative ideas and it has made a big difference to my own well-being – you always feel like someone has your back.
Have you kept in touch with any students after they’ve left?
As a rule, I don't make an active effort to keep in touch with students. I believe that the time they spend in my class is part of their journey and I hope they leave feeling well equipped to face the next challenges life presents them. It might be worth noting that I do remind my students that treasured memories are important and that if they would like to reach out to me in the future, they are free to do so. I would love to find out what they have gone on to do in later life! Perhaps in the future I will.
What are some of the biggest struggle’s teachers face at the moment?
Unfortunately, teaching isn't always sunshine and rainbows. It isn't a job where you "dance all day and draw stick men" (yes, I’ve actually had someone ask me if I do this...). And, especially for newly qualified teachers, the first couple of years can be a very bumpy ride. Often, it can feel as though you’re completing tasks for the sake of it rather than focusing on what truly matters: the social, emotional and academic achievements of your students.
I always receive messages from recently qualified educators worrying about teacher burnout, which is a big problem. I have focused a lot of my support content around the theme of teacher well-being and finding a positive work-life-balance; sometimes teachers can find it extremely difficult to switch off at the end of a work day.
Do you have a favourite gift you’ve received from a student?
Let's do favourite and strangest. My favourite was a fully home-made, personalised comic book some of my Year 4 students made me back in 2014. They spent hours making colouring pages, quiz questions and comic-strips based around me as a teacher and Adventure Time (their favourite show at the time). They certainly made my life look exciting! The strangest present was a large bag of mushrooms with a note on saying "eat these VERY quickly." Long story short...I didn't end up eating them.
Could you share your funniest story from the classroom?
I think events like World Book Day always make me smile. It's really hard to keep a straight face when you're speaking to a student about their behaviour choices while you are dressed up in a ridiculous outfit! I also had an amazing time when I decided to let my children launch (invisible) arrows at me as part of a unit of work learning about Ancient Civilisations... Sometimes you have to embrace a bit of role-playing and fake a gruesome death to make the learning more realistic. Genuinely though, I am lucky to have a job that makes me laugh every day.
What top 3 tips could you offer to aspiring teachers?
Decide on a route into teaching that suits you. There are a lot of different ways to become a teacher and you should make your decision based around your interests, ability and learning style. I've made a video explaining two of the most common routes on my channel to hopefully help with the decision-making process.
Secondly, appreciate the journey and try not to blame yourself when the workload feels enormous. Most trainee teachers find it tough and you will start to learn to manage your time effectively throughout the process.
Finally, I have to recommend my support channel ForTeachers! I've worked hard to create almost 100 videos addressing everything from lesson planning to classroom management. There’s even a specific playlist for student teachers. Please pop me a message on my Instagram page @ForTeachers if this interview has brought you to the channel. And thank you, Ohh Deer, for the chance to address the educators of the future – good luck everyone!
Thank you, Katie. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you!
Shop now and get your own teacher essentials from our selection of planners, backpacks, and notepads. Or check out our Thank You Teacher range and find the perfect gift to show your teacher some education appreciation.
Find out even more great advice and useful teaching tips from Katie’s YouTube channel, For Teachers.
You can also check out her social media here: