IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Q&A with Victoria Henshaw

Victoria is training to teach History after discovering a love for teaching through university supervision.

Victoria Henshaw, trainee History teacher

Hi Victoria!

What did you do prior to starting your teacher training programme?

I did a degree and a PhD in History at Birmingham University and I stayed on for about 7 years after my PhD to teach undergraduates and carry out some MA supervision. There an awful lot of jobs in academia but I quite enjoyed the teaching.

What are your motivations for training to teach?

To be a better teacher! And to be more efficient. Also, because I’d already done some teaching already, the idea of education was familiar but not necessarily any of the theory behind it – it was all by logic and instinct. So it’s been very nice to be able to back that up further in a very logical manner.

The thing I hadn’t realised is the camaraderie with the other PGCE students. It’s so nice that there are so many people straight from university but there are also people who are changing careers who have done other things, so there’s always somebody to talk through something or give help with a topic that I’ve already taught (and vice versa). We set up a Google Drive page and a WhatsApp group and just upload things for each other, so that’s really helpful. 

How are you finding the experience overall and has there been an element that has been particularly valuable?

The subject-specific teaching days are very inspirational and the visiting speakers, both for the keynote lectures and in the subject-specific days, people like Michael Riley, who have literally written the textbook and then come in with all these wonderful ideas and also the confidence boost because they say you don’t have to teach the topic in the way it’s been taught; you can flip it and you can look at it through a particular prism. I’ve just taught a four-lesson sequence on the Gunpowder Plot; I got a tree from Google Images with the causes being the roots,the trunk is the events and the leaves are all the consequences, so you can see the growth from something, and it’s like an organic process, and the children have really loved it.

Also being shown the lecturer’s resources and how they go through creating enquiry questions, and the process of putting together a lesson, always done through their own work that they have taught and then changed, so seeing that process of evolution. And to know that you don’t have to get it right first time!

The course has really helped formulate what I want to do in schools and how I want to teach, and in fact, our lecturer has said that this is time to think about what kind of teacher you want to be. It gives me the time to think about what kind of focus I want to have.

The course gives you the tools to go forward and do that, even if you haven’t decided just yet and I think that’s what I found valuable about IOE – it’s really laying a foundation that I can use in a very practical sense. 

How has the programme helped you to prepare for the classroom?

The keynote lectures are broad but they’re about concepts, for example: ‘how to teach teenagers’, ‘how to bring in race’, ‘how to bring in gender’ and things like that. You get thoroughly prepared, you have all of these keynote lectures before you start in a school and so there’s quite a thorough grounding, you then come back for more keynote lectures and that then reinforces what you heard before that you can now place into context because you’ve been in a school. Then you do the subject specific days, that’s all taught in a practical sense – everything you learn can be taken straight into the classroom and it can be applied immediately, it’s either theory or it’s a practical resource. 

So it is very much that everything you do – no matter how it’s taught to you – is about preparation for the classroom. I don’t think we’ve done anything that hasn’t been practical. Assessments are about creating a lesson enquiry and lessons and the resources or you’re investigating a bit of theory behind it (I did memory – how do you encourage memory?). They’re not just arbitrary: ‘write an essay on this’. It’s all useful. 

What impact do you think this will have on your future career – and where do you see yourself in the future?

At the moment I just want to be the best teacher I can be! I instinctively find that I love teaching the younger ones because they’re so enthusiastic but I also find that I want to help sixth formers for university because the more time I spent in university the more I realised that the way A Levels are taught is changing and some pupils were coming not ready for the university style of teaching. I’d love to be able to bridge that gap because I know both sides of it. There’s lots of work done between primary and secondary, and I don’t feel there’s enough done between secondary and tertiary. 

What is it like to train in a London school?

The thing I found which I hadn’t anticipated but I really love is that you teach such diverse backgrounds. I hadn’t necessarily thought of staying teaching in London but I am now because it’s just so much more rewarding to teach that, because they’re interested, they have more perspective to bring and it makes the classroom a better place.

Is there anything else you would like to say about your teacher training experience?

I think the thing that they didn’t make enough of when I came to the open day was how sensible they are about paperwork. I’ve seen other people on my placement schools that have folders and folders and folders of stuff. There’s necessary forms, there’s assignments and that’s expected but there’s not really pointless paperwork – everything seems to have a purpose and that only became apparent when I was here. Being a substitute teacher for that year, I saw other people on training schemes turning up with wheelie suitcases with lever arch files of stuff. I assumed that every course was like that and it turned out that no, although we do keep copies of our resources (because you keep a sample from each of your classes) but you don’t deal with that every day. It’s more on an everyday basis that the focus is on the teaching practice and that’s, I think, very sensible.