I haven’t been teaching for long, but during my PGCE I remember it being a time full of reflection, questioning and often self-doubt around what I was doing and whether I was actually making the impact that I thought that I was. During my NQT, as the pressure kicked in and I focused on the things that worked. Well, at least I think they worked. At the very least they worked well enough. But actually, I wasn’t interested in what worked ‘well enough’, I wanted to know what was working the best and I started yearning again for the academic vigour that had been a requisite of my PGCE course.
I knew of a few people who had completed a Masters in Education, but when I thought of myself in the same situation I had those imposter syndrome feelings, those people who could do a Masters at the same time as working full-time were superstars in my eyes and on top of that the cost of the courses seemed out of reach for someone new to the teaching profession. I resigned myself to the fact that it was a nice idea, but probably not for me.
Then one morning whilst checking my emails, something I always do just before checking the football transfer gossip (a habit I’m not entirely sure how I got into) and sat there in my inbox was an email (probably the last email I can distinctly remember receiving that didn’t have ‘GDPR’ in the subject line), it was from Culham St Gabriel’s Trust and it was advertising their 3forRE scheme. I had already benefited from their funding during my PGCE, without which I may never have been able to afford teacher training in the first place, and this time it seemed like an even more remarkable offer.
The scheme works with an agreement between Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, your school and yourself. The agreement means Culham St Gabriel’s and your school agree to part of the funding and you fund the remaining amount. Whilst there is an obvious financial benefit to this agreement, it also means that the school is invested and will directly benefit from the research that you are completing throughout your masters course. The process and procedure is incredibly straightforward. There is a selection of Universities that are associated and aware of the funding arrangement, so you still need to ensure that you have secured yourself a place on one of these courses to actually benefit from the funding.
I’d already completed my PGCE at the University of Oxford, knew the Masters course director from then and still lived ‘locally’ so it was the natural choice for me to apply for the MSc Learning and Teaching. The course is well structured around the professional commitments of a full-time working teacher. That’s not to say that other courses are not, I’ve just no personal experience of them and others that I have known who have completed Masters at other establishments have absolutely loved their course.
Now, the obvious question is why would I need a Masters just to reflect more on my teaching practice, couldn’t I just take the time myself and to critically reflect and engage with research in my own time? Well, yes. However, the reality is that sometimes we need a nudge or additional incentive to do so when our teaching loads are so high and the additional workload at times feeling insurmountable. Most importantly for me, however, was the ability to learn from and interact with experts on a range of educational issues and to receive high-quality supervision to ensure that I could engage with the research as effectively as possible. On top of that, the course gives you the ideal opportunities to share and reflect on the teaching practice and research of professionals in the same situation as you.
This isn’t to say that opportunities like this aren’t available to you outside of a course such as this, we’ve all worked with teachers who are well versed in the latest research and are keen to reflect upon and develop their own practice, but we also know teachers who will scoff at the idea that research bears any relevance to the realities of the classroom and therefore they won’t be taking part.
The course ran for two years part-time, the first year my research was focused on the perspectives of Hindu pupils in the teaching of Religious Studies, it fitted my school context well and allowed for real developments in the teaching of the subject, addressing concerns about misrepresentations within religions. My second-year piece represents the piece of work, to date, that I am most proud of ever completing. I tackled the under-researched role of EdTech in Religious Education (for those who are interested, my exact title being ‘The role of technology in the assessment of RE’ Find it on the ResearchforRE website at http://researchforre.reonline.org.uk/research_report/the-role-of-technology-in-the-assessment-of-re/).
The research was fun, rewarding and informative, the write-up was one of the most labour intensive things I have ever done and there are many people who I am thankful to during times at which I may have neglected them to focus on the work. My teaching practice and the implications for the school have been enormously beneficial, I have led CPD sessions, I’ve been asked to blog and speak at a range of events and asked to work on different research projects. Throughout I’ve met a range of fantastic people, from fellow course-mates, to academics and importantly the supervisors that I was given.
After all the hard work that went into this, the saddest part was submitting my dissertation, psychologically that felt like the end and I hadn’t been prepared for the change of intensive study to an email of recognition that my assignment had been received. The wait for the result was nerve-wracking, initially I was convinced that I’d have failed (the imposter syndrome sneaking back in), then I managed to acknowledge that this was a much better piece than my first assignment, so it must be a pass, surely…
On what I’m now certain was the first day that I’d not woken up with the MLT on my mind, I started my day like normal, breakfast, football gossip while I let the coffee brew, then the short cycle to work. At lunchtime I checked my phone, the battery was low, so I’d had to manually refresh the emails, I dragged down the screen and in my inbox appeared a few emails, one from a major high street sports retailer informing me of their latest sales, one from a major online retailer suggesting products that I might be interested in, the last from the Education department at the University, my result was ready.
A tense few moments as my phone struggled to download the attachment and I had to log back in to my computer, this time the attachment loads, I read it through once but cannot take it all in, so I have to go through a second and then a third time. This time it sinks in, I hadn’t failed, nor had I only just passed, I’d managed to get a distinction for my dissertation and I was speechless.
A few months later and I was getting ready for my graduation. When I’d graduated from my Undergraduate degree it had rained, really hard, the only pictures are taken in an overcrowded marquee. This time I managed to graduate in the snow (the man in the shop where I hired the gown claimed that it had been the first graduation in the snow in all the time that he had worked there in 30 years – I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is certainly the account that I’m going with). Graduating at Oxford is unlike anything I’ve done before in my life, it really is a special place (not one that I thought I’d ever be graduating from). It topped off an experience in my life that was brilliant in so many ways.
The point is that the Masters course was, professionally and intellectually speaking, the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life and personally one of the most rewarding things (I have to play it safe there, some of my family and friends read these blogs). I cannot recommend doing a Masters enough, it will challenge and excite you in so many ways and the support from Culham St Gabriel’s (and the two schools I worked in during the course) through the 3forRE scheme was invaluable in helping me to achieve so much. It is a kind and supportive offer that I fully encourage you to take advantage of.
Sam McKavanagh teaches RE and Philosophy at a secondary school in Oxfordshire and regularly blogs on his website My Teaching Life (http://www.myteachinglife.co.uk). He’s passionate about teaching and keen to try out tech and new teaching ideas.
For more information on the 3forRE Master’s Funding see http://www.cstg.org.uk/how-we-help/3forre/