Day in the life of a Lecturer at Stoke on Trent College
Lucy Shore, Construction & the Built Environment Lecturer at Stoke on Trent College, has been featured in the Association of Colleges ‘Day in the life of’ series highlighting how rewarding a career in Further Education can be!
What got you into design?
I’ve always been interested in art and design from a young age – how things work, colouring in patterns and so. I left school after A-levels and studied design at Staffordshire University where I specialised in surface pattern design, one of the most commercial outlets for design as you can go into different sectors. I graduated with a first-class honours degree and in 2009 got my first job in Stoke-on-Trent, working on the design and manufacture of ceramics (it became a hobby and I have my own kiln; I even had a six-month exhibition in the British Museum to celebrate British craftsmanship). Redundancy followed but it led to my first taste of teaching at school in Biddulph – I went in as an art technician for two years and also did bits of cover teaching for A-level photography and art and design.
I returned to industry from 2014-19 to focus on interior design, working with architects on commercial projects such as care homes and hotels. I then moved to a large, high street consultancy where I physically designed products on the computer, working on all kinds of furnishings and fabrics, before returning to education.
What’s been your educational role in FE up to now?
In 2019 I began teaching art and design for five months at a prison. I then successfully applied for a post at my current college as a mentor to support students’ emotional, social and mental health needs – all of which needed to be met before they could start to learn properly. I’d take young people out of lessons and re-engage with them.
In my second year, I also began my part-time level 4 teacher training qualification and worked a lot with construction students, focusing on interior design, interpreting architects’ drawings and working with construction professionals. As a mentor, I was helping students break down external and internal barriers to learning and working on numerous safeguarding issues (as part of my teaching practice last year). Last term I qualified as a teacher and so I’m now a full-time lecturer delivering a level 3 BTec and Construction and the Built Environment to students I’ve already taught as a trainee last year.
What do you like about FE?
The chance to pass on transferable skills I’ve gained from the industry (like how to sell briefs to clients) and to help young people on the next step of their journey, becoming who they want to be. They may dislike certain subjects they are forced to take at school, but at college, they choose what they study and for me, that’s really interesting as you can help develop that person. It’s quite a difficult age if they are living at home and have issues – they don’t just need classroom support. You have to ensure they get support in all areas and fulfil their potential throughout the course.
What’s a typical day?
As a mentor up until Christmas, no day was the same. On just one day late last term I had to refer people in crisis to a counselling team and had to pacify one very frustrated learner. I’d get in at 8.30am check my diary for meetings that would generally start from 9am onwards – some would last 15 minutes, others half a morning. Certain appointments would come up suddenly, it was very varied. I’d try to get away by 4.30-5.00pm. In addition, I’d have my regular teaching practice day with construction students on Tuesdays and take art enrichment classes open to all students on Wednesdays, where I’d teach different art techniques such as using watercolours, oils, acrylics etc.
Now in my new role as a full-time lecturer, I check my emails at 8.30am to see if any student has emailed for support. Then I ensure all equipment I need for my session is laid out in the classroom ready for the students’ arrival at 9am. In the sessions, we work our way through different course units, including construction design, building information modelling (BIM) and health and safety. I use various teaching methods to help engage each learner. My students particularly like quizzes and practical drawing elements of the course. Days finish around 4.30pm when the students leave, and this leaves me time to mark, develop more resources and complete paperwork.
Any specific task you have completed recently?
I’ve been helping students complete their UCAS university application forms and personal statements and have written references – they apply for a range of courses including surveying, property development and architecture.
What do your students like studying most?
Practical work. They do like theory but I have to make it fun so they don’t go to sleep when I’m explaining some pretty heavy construction principles. I got an architect in one week last term and they absolutely loved how he related what they were studying to how he worked in industry. He was brilliant. I’ve also run lots of quizzes to support our formative assessment of learners. I get the phones and laptops out and test them with about 20 questions on subjects we’ve recently covered. It’s the fastest finger first and it can get really competitive at that point; they learn from it and it helps me assess what they have taken in from the previous session.
The college has recently invested in a load of drones, thermal imaging cameras, ground-penetrating radar and 3D cameras. We’re using them for the first time this month to help us plan out a site and gather up data to create computer-aided designs (CAD).
What’s one of the biggest challenges of the job?
Ensuring you get off on the right foot with your students. It’s both enjoyable and hard work. You have to constantly focus on your relationships and communications and show you care – and that can be truly challenging at times, particularly when a learner thinks they have no need of your support when they do! You have to break down barriers or that sort of attitude can stop a student from accessing education properly; they might not have anyone at home who cares for them, so you always have to look at their basic needs before you can even start teaching. If they don’t meet those needs before coming to college, it’s hard to progress them up the scale.
That’s why we have mentors and support in place, first, to open the door to that learner so that they feel okay coming in and then, second, to then push them again to try achieving their best. I’ve been one of five mentors across both our college sites, which also have a professional counselling team in place, including a student financial support service. We offer all learners free breakfast daily from 8-8.45am as some may not have had anything to eat before they come to college.
Any achievement you are proud of?
Coming out of industry, retraining as a teacher and studying for my level 4 teaching qualification while holding down a full-time job – and being a mum and a wife!
What personal qualities do you need?
Life experience is essential – don’t think you can simply coach people into changing their behaviour. You’ve got to be very open, transparent and honest with students and possess substantial organisational skills. Besides supporting the learners, you have to be able to do all the admin and paperwork, submitting notes each week, and be aware of all the latest procedures. And you’ve got to be a people person and work with other professionals to whom you can refer learners if you can’t help them yourself.
Industrial experience and a degree or other qualification in a relevant subject. You also need basic knowledge of how to use computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Any advice to wannabe lecturers?
Be prepared to put the work in but do admit when you don’t know something and learn from others. Constantly apply your transferable skills from another industry to help solve problems. Show you care for your students. And before applying ensure you have the right experience to take up teaching.
Any key questions to ask an interview candidate?
– Why do you want the job?
– What skills, qualities and teaching experience do you have to benefit our learners?
What do you say to other women interested in a male-dominated sector like construction?
If you are good at what you do, in whatever area and particularly in industrial fields, don’t be afraid to go for it. It’s all about creating those connections.
What spurs you on to work each day?
My office colleagues. I’ve never worked anywhere else where my fellow staff are all men of a certain age who have loads of fascinating stories to tell about past experiences . . . and when the work gets hard, they’re not afraid to dig in and help me out.