Our graduatesNicola McIntyre, PGDE Physics

PGDE Physics Graduate Nicola McIntyreTell us a little bit about your background...
I grew up on a council estate on the outskirts of Glasgow, left school aged 15 with little qualifications, certainly not as many as I was capable of! I went to work straight away as an office junior and settled down and had two children. As my children got older I worked as a service manager and an assistant accountant. When I decided to become a teacher I had no higher qualifications, never mind a degree. As a single parent I was the only breadwinner and so I decided to keep my job to pay the bills and work for a degree with Open University. The degree took me 8 years all in as I had to first get the appropriate Maths and English qualifications. It was an extremely long, tough road, but I was determined from the start that I would achieve my goal and become a teacher. I chose to study astrophysics to become a primary teacher, but after gaining a job as a support assistant in a high school two years prior to applying for my PGDE, I knew I would enjoy teaching older children more and applied to Strathclyde to teach physics.

What inspired you to become a teacher?
After my eldest son mistakenly told his teacher I was an Egyptologist, she invited me in to help with their Egypt topic. We resolved the misunderstanding and clarified that while I was enthusiastic about Egyptian history, i hadn’t actually studied it! After this I volunteered in my children’s school on one of my days off each week for 4 years and absolutely loved it. After speaking to teachers in the school I was inspired to teach myself. My own physics teacher at high school was a massive inspiration to me and this along with a love of the stars made me decide to study astrophysics.

Did you have a favourite teacher when you were at school?
My physics teacher was always a favourite. He was funny, kind, and always made me feel at ease. He really cared about his students and I remember him refusing to sign my leavers form because he knew I was capable of more and he was right!

Why did you select the University of Strathclyde?
Strathclyde was my first choice, for me I had always associated Strathclyde with education and while I considered other universities I was delighted to receive an offer and immediately accepted.

What did you learn during your placements?
Placements were where I learned how to teach. It was a steep learning curve and I often doubted myself during those early days (and still do now and again!). I learnt the bulk of what I’ve taken forward to my probation year from my time on placement and the advice from other teachers has stayed with me this year.

What would be your advice for people considering taking the PGDE course at Strathclyde?
Do it! Strathclyde gave me an amazing experience. I had only studied remotely before enrolling on the PGDE and I could not have asked for a better place to learn. My tutors were brilliant throughout the whole course and beyond. The atmosphere throughout the whole cohort was supportive and I’ve made some friends for life.

Where are you working now and what is the best part of your job?
I am working in a secondary school 10 minutes from home, I never dread going to work and every day brings something new so I am never bored. The best thing for me is having my own classes and being able to create lessons with my own style. During placement you just start to develop relationships with your classes and then you’re back on campus so I’m enjoying getting to know my pupils and adapting my lessons to suit them as I go. I’ve been able to help some of my pupils that are having a hard time and knowing I am making a difference every day is an amazing feeling. It really is the best job in the world.

What did you think of the support available at Strathclyde?
The support available was excellent. For every task and every assignment support is made available. There are additional benefits that you can access if you are struggling with mental health which is so important and I feel that Strathclyde really made sure that everyone could access these services.

Any final points or words of wisdom?
The PGDE has been the toughest learning curve of my life. It really is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish but I loved every second of it. I don’t think there is anything you can do to prepare yourself for your first time teaching, you just have to jump in and do it. Be as organized as you can and you will be fine. I took a Sunday afternoon to plan my weeks lessons and emailed these to my teachers well in advance. This way I managed to work a part time job while still having dinner on the table for my kids, helping with homework and the dramas of teenage life! Ask questions, ask everyone not just your mentor and trust yourself too. If you want to try something new do it, just talk it through with experienced teachers first. But the best piece of advice I can give was given to me by a tutor on campus, keep it simple - pupils will learn more, you’ll be less overwhelmed and anyone observing you will plainly see what you’re trying to achieve in your lesson. All the fancy stuff is well and good but it can distract from the key points you’re trying to make.