Experts at NCC: Jason Allen

Experts at NCC: Jason Allen

What subject do you teach?

I teach English at New City College Poplar Campus.

Why is your subject relevant?

English qualifications are gateway qualifications into work and further study. People need to be able to communicate effectively in the disciplines of reading, writing, speaking and listening, both functionally and intellectually so that they develop the literacy and thinking skills to assess and resolve situations literally, creatively and metacognitively. It’s an important subject with enough scope to broaden cultural capital, include Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and link to employability.

While all this is true, I think the subject is extremely important for people’s communication with each other on a personal level, too; for example, relationships with others because the better we are at communicating with each other, the likelier we will resolve problems diplomatically, avoiding conflict and building a more positive rapport with others.

What is the best thing about teaching?

The best thing about teaching is when you see progress and students feeling better about their achievements. The moments when students laugh in the shared learning experience is definitely a peak experience in the job.

How did you get into teaching?

During my time working in the Mental Health sector, I voluntarily ran English Skills courses for people with mental health problems. It was very low pressure on the learners and it gave them a space to share their feelings without fear of an exam result. The process of learning was organic and lessons began with self-affirmations, talking about the language we use to motivate ourselves. We did some reading and writing tasks of a personal nature, and learners were given a certificate at the end of the 10 weeks. It was nice to see people who were somewhat lost at the start of the courses smile and feel as though the process had been cathartic.

After that, I was clear that I needed to achieve a teaching qualification. I began working in a sixth form college as a Learning Support Assistant and gained excellent experience in supporting learners. Across the four years in that job, I took on an additional tutorial role for Level 1 groups, added an English qualification in Higher Education to my belt and completed teacher training. It was a different experience working with mostly young people but equally rewarding because seeing the sense of achievement was great.

What is it like to work at New City College?

My colleagues are exceptional and I enjoy working with them. If I had the time, I would love to get to know everyone across all campuses. As teaching is a lone working job most of the time, meaning sharing our experiences together both good and not so good is so beneficial for our wellbeing.

What advice would you give to an early career teacher?

Teaching your content is less challenging over the years because you will have learnt a great amount about communicating with learners and will have a bank of resources that suit your style of teaching. I definitely advise creating your own scaffolded teaching and learning resources, and continuously review them so that the nuances of support for differentiation are reconsidered.

Never just rely on spoken instructions — have a written set next to the learners or on the board, reviewing them proactively during the course of tasks.

Take time to develop the emotional literacy of your learners, helping them to connect with their work and review how they feel about what they are learning as much as what they are learning and why they are learning it.

Try your best not to take moments of boredom and frustration too personally. Reflect and try to find the humour if possible. Smile as much as you can.

What has been your biggest teaching challenge?

The biggest challenge as a teacher was moving from feeling like a novice to comfortable enough to believe that I have sufficient knowledge and experience to have my learners buy into the idea that what I offer them is useful and meaningful.

What has been your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievement is walking in the communal areas of the college and being greeted by many students and staff members. If people are happy to see me, that is the greatest achievement I could ask for. We can’t win them all but we can try to win the hearts and minds of as many as possible.

Who has inspired you the most?

I’m very grateful to Sidney Poitier in “To Sir, With Love” (1967), which I have been watching since I was a child. The actor and, Mr Thackery, the character he portrayed were both inspiring to me because they exerted dignity and power. Not power in an authoritarian way but in a power to care. I learnt that sometimes we have to be firm to lead but we definitely also need to be compassionate enough to demonstrate that the firmness is in the best interests of others. I learnt that teaching facts and figures is not enough to develop a rapport with learners so time out taken to develop emotional literacy is vital in bringing learners onboard in finding value in education and engaging in what I offer in terms of knowledge and skills. It’s never easy but it’s worth it.