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Life Beyond Chatteris: Teaching Maths in the UK

From tutor to Teach First - Chatteris' own Alice Deptford speaks to Emily Lagan, who left Chatteris to pursue teaching in the British secondary school system.
12 Aug 2021

Life Beyond Chatteris: Teaching Maths in the UK

From tutor to Teach First – Chatteris’ own Alice Deptford speaks to Emily Lagan, who left Chatteris to pursue teaching in the British secondary school system.

Emily Lagan began her teaching career in 2019 when she joined Chatteris as a tutor. She worked for Chatteris for one academic year before returning to her home country of the UK to train as a secondary mathematics teacher. She is currently enrolled on a teacher training programme through Teach First. This involves studying for her PGCE with Northumbria University whilst teaching full-time in a secondary school in North East England. At the end of the two year programme, Emily will be a qualified maths teacher.

Emily found meals out with her fellow Chatteris Tutors and their co-teachers were a great opportunity for their team to bond. | Image by Emily Lagan
Emily found meals out with her fellow Chatteris Tutors and their co-teachers were a great opportunity for their team to bond. | Image by Emily Lagan

What are some of your most prominent memories of working for Chatteris?

I have so many great memories from my time with Chatteris, but I’d have to say one thing that really stands out for me is the amazing working relationships that the Chatteris Tutors at my school all had with each other, as well as our relationships with the local teachers. We went for several group meals all together, all the local teachers were very welcoming. I also have amazing memories of my social life outside of work too. It was great meeting so many new and interesting people!

Was it always your intention to pursue teaching? Was there a particular moment during your time with Chatteris that made you want to be a teacher?

It wasn’t my intention to pursue teaching when I first came to Hong Kong, I wanted to travel and try something new before returning to the UK to become an analyst or something similar, since I studied economics at university. 

Upon joining Chatteris, I found I really enjoyed being in school. The atmosphere was great and the day just flies by when you’re teaching, which I loved! That made me start to consider teaching as a long-term career. There wasn’t a particular moment that made me want to continue teaching but rather the whole structure of teaching. I liked the fact that no two lessons are the same, and the feeling you have when you’ve just had a really great lesson is unbeatable!

What are the biggest differences between working in a school in England and a school in Hong Kong? 

The culture in Hong Kong is very education-focused. From what I remember, many students have further help outside of school such as private tutoring, which isn’t nearly as common in England. I found that Hong Kong students also tend to be able to concentrate for a lot longer! The other massive difference is that in Hong Kong, I was teaching English in a primary school, whereas now I am teaching maths in a secondary school. Although teaching phonics in Hong Kong was pretty confusing at times, I have to rack my brains a bit more to work out some of the maths I have to teach. Teaching maths also requires less creativity than teaching English, since the way lessons are taught and planned isn’t as varied as the goals are more tangible and the answers to questions are more definite. That being said, I do think I prefer teaching maths.

The team of tutors at Emily's placement school enjoyed hosting English events for their students, such as this Beauty and the Beast themed funfair. | Image by Emily Lagan
The team of tutors at Emily’s placement school enjoyed hosting English events for their students, such as this Beauty and the Beast themed funfair. | Image by Emily Lagan

How are you finding the Teach First programme? 

It is a lot of work since I am effectively combining studying for my PGCE with a full-time job, but I am really enjoying it. I have four 5000-word essays to write over the course of the two years, which have been really interesting so far. Since I have to write the essays alongside teaching I am sometimes allowed to take study leave. I also feel really supported; I have three (!) mentors (one at my school, one with Teach First and one at the university I’m enrolled in). This has been great as I was thrown into the deep end a bit, having started teaching at a school with my own classes from day one. My teaching experience with Chatteris definitely helped this though.

Looking back, how formative was your time at Chatteris for your professional and personal development?

My year with Chatteris helped a lot with my professional development. As well as finding my passion in terms of teaching and how much I enjoyed working in a school environment, I also learnt so many other skills including working with other people, and organisation (which is so important to have as a teacher)! I found the monthly training sessions with Chatteris especially helpful and supportive, particularly training regarding students with special educational needs and lesson planning. This all really came in handy when I first started the programme with Teach First, especially as I already had a bit of background knowledge in terms of teaching. 

Not only did I develop professionally but I also developed a lot in a personal sense. I was in Hong Kong with Chatteris at the height of the 2019-2020 demonstrations and at the beginning of the pandemic, which both really put my resilience to the test. I learnt though that although not everything is under my control, it does usually work out in the end.

What do you miss the most about Hong Kong? Would you ever like to come back?

Super Tutors! A creative English board display featuring the Chatteris team. | Image by Emily Lagan
Super Tutors! A creative English board display featuring the Chatteris team. | Image by Emily Lagan

I would love to go back, I miss it a lot! I particularly miss my friends, the amazing weather and huge variety of things to do on the weekends. I feel like I was always exploring when I was in Hong Kong as it was such a new and different environment to what I was used to. I would potentially like to go back and work at an international school. The great thing about having a PGCE is that I can use it to teach all around the world. Even if I don’t return to Hong Kong for work I’d still love to go back for a holiday!

What is your advice to any current CNETs who want to continue teaching (either in Hong Kong or in their home country)? 

If you’re not sure what to do going forward, whether that be staying in Hong Kong, going home, continuing teaching or starting a new career, write down pros and cons lists for your options, and just keep applying for things that interest you. Don’t worry about making the wrong or right choices, just do what your heart tells you and it’ll work out eventually; most things are reversible. In terms of teaching skills, make sure to stay organised. Being organised is key to being a teacher so make sure to always write to-do lists and carry them around with you!

Interested starting your teaching career with Chatteris like Emily? Join us as a Chatteris Tutor.

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