Sinobia Kenny – from South Africa – is a LA secondary mathematics consultant
I was brought up under apartheid in South Africa. My mother was a primary school teacher and my grandfather was the head teacher who opened the first school for ‘coloured’ children in our ‘coloured’ community in Cape Town. He had been a missionary all his life, opening schools across the Western Cape with the help of my grandmother.
At secondary school I had to miss a year’s schooling due to its closure for political reasons. At the time this greatly upset me, but it was during this time that my ambition changed to following the family tradition and become a teacher.
After school I did a BSc in mathematics and chemistry and then the additional (honours) year in chemistry. I followed this with a postgraduate Higher Diploma in Education (HDE) to become a qualified teacher in South Africa. I focused on mathematics and the physical sciences teaching, in both English and Afrikaans, in a deprived township for 3 years.
I was keen to travel and to widen my experience so, in 1997, I responded to a newspaper advertisement from a UK teaching agency, recruiting for supply teaching in London. I came to London for the interview and got the job. The agency gave me no training or induction. Doing supply teaching enabled me to see several schools, with different leadership and departmental structures, and also helped me build up a range of experience in behaviour management. One of the schools I worked at was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, where the deputy Head recommended me to Highbury Grove School, when they needed a mathematics teacher.
I had come to England on a two year working holiday visa. Highbury Grove School wanted to employ me on a permanent contract, but I had to leave the country so they could advertise and then, if I was selected, obtain a work permit. I returned to South Africa and waited for three months to get a positive response. In April 1998 I returned to Highbury Grove to work as a mathematics teacher. By then the school had both a new Head Teacher and a new Head of Mathematics, so I had to prove myself to these new people.
I found a list of universities that supported people through the Graduate Teacher Programme. I rang many of these departments without success. Finally, London South Bank University responded and a representative came to see me. They did not give any training, but helped me to collect the evidence I needed to gain Qualified Teacher Status.
Highbury Grove School had a good Professional Tutor in charge of teachers’ professional development, who was an outstanding role model. Although overseas-trained teachers do not officially get any extra support, she encouraged me to use all the support that was given to Newly Qualified Teachers and also recommended courses for me to attend. She suggested that I apply to be Head of Year, so I was Head of Year 7 during my Newly Qualified Teacher year (I had already been teaching for over 5 years by then). In that year I also took on some extra responsibilities in the mathematics department (overseeing their involvement in the CAME project, assisting the Head of Mathematics in the absence of a second in charge). As Head of Year, I greatly enjoyed looking at social and emotional aspects of learning, and focusing on levels of attainment and progress. I have always been passionate about life-long learning, emphasising teaching skills for development and wider improvement inside and outside the classroom.
After five and a half years at Highbury Grove, I became a teaching and learning consultant (mathematics) in a local authority. This has enabled me to work with more schools. I deliver bespoke support to senior and middle leaders while providing personalised training to teachers and support staff. I have also tried to ensure that overseas-trained teachers are well supported. Several of the overseas- trained teachers that I had taken under my wing valued our one-to-one coaching sessions ranging from collating evidence for their assessor to mapping their coordinates on their career pathways. By investing time in their professional development, I have fostered good relationships and built capacity within the schools. My role has evolved into a virtual leader and confidante to many teachers and leaders. I am often referred to as a critical friend.
My main challenge as an overseas trained teacher was coming from strongly supportive family and friends to somewhere where I knew no-one. I had to find cheap places to live (through networks such as TNT) and got used to sleeping on sofas, while grappling with learning the English curriculum and conventions and doing my lesson planning. There were several friendly and supportive people at the schools where I worked who offered guidance and encouragement.
My main advice to overseas trained teachers is to avoid the complainers and find a strong role model in your school. Doing this ha confirmed for me that becoming a better teacher is a lifelong journey, during which it is good to receive and give support. Teachers gain greatly from networking. I enjoy doing this on a local and national level and working on developing international networks. I strongly recommend the structures for learning from each other, which are well supported by the NCETM.