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“The fear of standing in front of children has disappeared completely”

Emma at Welbourne Primary School during one of her first sessions.
Emma at Welbourne Primary School during one of her first sessions.

Emma Asante took part in our very first employability project. After being out of work for two years, she spent five months working at SSCC.  She was trained up to deliver a school council workshop and trained almost 600 primary children in local primaries in Tottenham. Here’s her story!

Working at Smart Schools Councils Community (SSCC) has been a really enjoyable experience. I have learnt so much over the past five months. Life before SSCC was like an up and down rollercoaster with more downs than ups,  as straight after university I was pretty much unemployed for just about two years. I had been applying for jobs but I either had been rejected or perhaps interviewed but didn’t get the job as I lacked experience.

As I didn’t want to waste any more time in getting rejected for jobs; I decided to gain experience through the route of volunteering where eventually I discovered that my passion was in an environment which involves interacting with children and young people. Interacting with children was both and enjoyable and yet frustrating experience as I often had doubts as to whether my skills were being recognized by the staff. Also I was volunteering on most days of the week which most of the time could be draining and I wasn’t getting paid for it; but nevertheless I had hope that something great would come along.

I met a friend through a summer volunteering project and I told her about what other things I did volunteering wise. One day she had sent me an email about an advertisement that she had come across for a Young Trainee role.  I spent the next four days writing my cover letter and improving my CV. When I was looking through my emails; I was surprised to find that I had been accepted for an interview and so prepared myself as best as I could before the interview date.

Emma interviewing the CEO of Isledon Partnership as part of Takeover Day 2014
Emma interviewing the CEO of Isledon Partnership as part of Takeover Day 2014

On the day of the interview I was so nervous that I left my home just a little bit early to have more time for preparation. When I had arrived at the office; the nervousness melted away slowly as Greg and Asher (who run the SSCC) were wearing smart casual clothes and this made the interview less intimidating for me. Before the interview even began they had told me that my CV was really good and that my cover letter was written very well which I was surprised about and yet happy at the same time. This had made me relax even more and had boosted up my confidence a little bit.

They had asked me questions about my volunteer roles stated on my CV where they would have liked to have known more about what each role involved doing. They were interested in the school one in particular where I was able to say that I had observed how school council representatives were elected in one class that I was in by which they were able to confirm that the method that I described were the most common way in how school council reps were chosen. They had asked me questions about the charity which I was able to answer as well as scenario questions which surprisingly through thinking carefully I was able to provide decent answers which they both liked. Then came the numeracy and literacy test which were both ok in the beginning but towards the end, both tests got either a bit harder or a bit tricky.

After the interview; I felt it went ok in that it was probably one of the most comfortable interviews that I have ever been in although at the same time I felt that the interview could have gone better. I had reached home and had seen a missed call on my phone so I had called the recipient back but they hadn’t picked up. My phone had rang again where I was able to answer the phone call only to find out that it was Greg who said that he would like to offer me the role. I had now felt that my skills had been recognized by someone where I was not afraid to work hard and was motivated to learn new skills that I could utilize in my volunteering roles.

As soon as I the role was confirmed; I emailed one of my volunteer co-coordinators at a hospital that I was volunteering for nearly a year and told her that I had got a job somewhere else. She was very happy for me and circulated a general email to all the staff that got to know me. All the staff were happy for me and had wished me well; by which I felt quite emotional but yet excited at the same time as I was about to experience something that I hadn’t experienced before.

My first day as a Young Trainee involved going to Coventry with Asher. He was running a full-day of training with several schools including Cardinal Wiseman as the host school.  I was quite nervous as I didn’t know what to expect; but as soon as I got to hear various school council ideas from different schools; my nervousness decreased and I soon became comfortable going around each school and asking questions about what their school council has been up to.

Emma, Gabi and Marj - the the Trainees together
Emma, Gabi and Marj – the the Trainees together

A month went by; and we needed to recruit two more Young Trainees. I suggested advertising the role on indeed.co.uk and gum tree. We had quite a few responses to the advertisement, and I helped to choose three strong candidates based on their experience listed on their CV. I found the interview quite stage interesting and yet weird at the same time as I had never been an interviewer before. Also I was unsure about what sort of questions to ask them which also made me a bit nervous as well.

Two out of the three interviewees showed up and I felt that both Gabbi and Margaret had different skills to offer which are useful for the Young Trainee role. One of them had even asked me a question about what it was like to be a Young Trainee where I was honestly able to share my Young Trainee experience in terms of what they can expect.  From being in the interviewer’s seat I had been able to see how the interviewee must have been feeling during the interview where some of those feelings matched how I was feeling when I was being interviewed.  I had also learnt that from the interviewer’s side it can be hard work in terms of brainstorming relevant suitable questions to ask the interviewees about their CV alongside ensuring that you are hiring the right suitable candidate for the role.

The day that I first trained in a primary school was nerve-wracking as I am not usually good at presenting in front of an audience. Gabbi, Margaret and I had created our own session plan which we were eager to trial in front of students at Welbourne Primary school. The session started off ok but I started to get flustered as time went on as the pupils started getting restless; especially as the session took place after school.

Certain aspects of it didn’t work such as the game that was introduced being too complicated for the children to understand. In relation to leading the session; none of us took charge and led the session as we were all very nervous and new to training young children. We also spent too long on certain sections of the session; particularly when it came to brainstorming ideas as some pupils needed more time than others to come up with ideas. As a result our 1 hour session was near its time limit and thus we signaled Asher to quickly intervene and help us to conclude the session.

After that session we had a quick meeting about how the session went. We decided as a group decided that our session plan needed more structure where timings would be included and a simple but effective game that pupils can understand as well as play. As we might not be aware of the time we gave a task to Greg where he would tell us how much time we have left and whether we needed to wrap up quickly any section of the session that may have taken longer than necessary.

So with these changes in mind; Gabbi and I headed off to a primary school that I both volunteered in and helped to organize with Greg that is Risley Avenue Primary School where we would train their school council. I was nervous at first but keeping in mind that I volunteer there helped to calm my nerves a little. The session went better than our first one where the structure of the session was better, we kept the session to just over 5 minutes over the time limit and the pupils quite enjoyed it overall.  One of the children learnt that he ‘knows more about school councils’ and that ‘it’s not just about sitting around the table’.

However certain aspects could have gone better where one of us should have really led whilst the other assists in preparing the materials to ensure that the session runs more smoothly. As one of us didn’t really led; the students seemed confused as to which of us was leading the session and thus we decided that we that in our next training session; one of us should take the lead. So we re-grouped and made more changes to our session plan which was even better

The whole team Christmas selfie
The whole team Christmas selfie

In our next school that was St Paul and All Hallows we delivered several sessions to several classes of roughly 30 pupils; in one whole day over two days. This was nerve-wracking as we still didn’t believe we were ready to go solo. Margaret took the plunge first which went ok for her although she had cut out sections of the session to keep within the time limit. This actually helped to make the session better as there were parts of the session that didn’t need to be there and that it’s good to keep a session simplistic yet fun for pupils and not to overcomplicate it.

As we delivered training in Lea Valley Primary school for the same period as St Paul and All Hallows; I felt that Margaret and Gabbi were doing very well although I could do with more practice and so chose to lead more sessions than them to get better. However I would say that my very last session as a Young Trainee with Risley was the best it’s ever gone. Suddenly the nerves had gone and I had managed to make the session more interactive in involving the school councils more. For example for the ‘see it; draw it game’; they seemed to remember how to play it and so instinctively I asked one of the school councilors to explain how to play the game whilst I introduced the rules of the game.

Another way I kept the session interactive was by asking more open questions where if they had said yes I would then ask why. Also at the end of the ‘see it; draw it’ game; as well as asking them what they learnt from it I had also stressed the importance of the school councilors in assisting pupils with their ideas instead of letting the pupils simply passing on their ideas and leaving the school councilors only to deal with it.

With this set up I had asked them two different scenarios around the subject of forming a basketball club that may have been suggested to a pupil and what may happen to the idea if it was simply passed onto the school councilors. From these scenarios they themselves answered that an idea could be changed to something different from the original or simply be forgotten as other ideas may have come forward that day. Therefore understood the importance of why assisting pupils is a better method in ensuring that ideas put forward get put into action.

Working with Gabbi and Margaret has been amazing as without them I would not have been able to handle school council training. As one of us would lead the session the other two would ensure that the council session would run smoothly as well as preparing the materials to avoid precious time in training. In terms of working as a team I would say my strength lied with putting myself forward in giving myself more opportunity to take charge of leading a session.

I would say Margaret’s strength lied in explaining simply what we as Young Trainees were trying to do in terms of what Smart School Councils as well as motivating students in helping to brainstorm great ideas that they would like to put into action. Gabbi’s strength laid in organization in terms of ensuring that our materials of the session were in order as well as re-structuring our session plan and asking Margaret and I if anything more needed to be changed.

After the training had finished I felt quite sad that it had all came to an end so quickly but I enjoyed it nonetheless where I was able to pull it together right at the end. SSCC has been a great experience where personally for me it has helped me improve upon my skills that I now utilize in the primary school I volunteer in. Before SSCC I would never had thought of standing in front of a class of 30 pupils or assisting children with their learning in groups. I eventually got used to being in a classroom full of children itself but felt I lacked the skills to really take charge of the class and to be taken seriously by the students.

Emm
Emma enjoying the Haringey Masterclass

Nowadays the fear  of standing in front of children has disappeared completely where I try to make small group lessons more interactive. I would introduce a topic and get the pupils to learn through questioning to get responses from students which is what I learnt to do from SSCC and realized that questioning helps students understand a topic quicker and makes it more interesting rather than simply lecturing them about it. I have received good feedback from the students themselves where some have said I am the best teaching assistant that they have had and get excited when I am placed into their class by the head of teaching assistants.

I’m also less shy than I was before. I’ve got a part time job in working in stadiums working with food. I’ve also attempted to go for teamleader. Unfortunately I was not successful in achieving this but for me personally was a better experience then when I went for it the previous time as the first time I went for it I was too nervous and quiet which the panel assessing me could tell. I have learnt on what I could do better from the second attempt and now one of the panel members who assessed me worked with me as my teamleader. Not only sees that I have potential to be a team leader but is eager for me to go for another teamleader assessment by which I have agreed to.

I am also not afraid to apply for Teaching Assistant jobs as I was before as I felt that SSCC has given me the necessary experience and skills to not only lead a class but to also make learning more creative and fun for the children to learn. Near the end of the Young Trainee contract I applied through an agency for a Teaching Assistant role where the agency got back to me pretty quickly and asked to come in for an interview. The interviewer was very impressed the experience I gained over the past few months as well as the skills I was able to gain from it and even suggested that she could get me placed in a school within the next day.

Within that same week; I had been offered a role as a Business Development Assistant for SSCC which I never expected to happen. I was given time to think it over where through experiencing an eventful day at a Teaching Assistant observation alongside stopping my volunteering; I had decided to accept the Business Development role instead. This was because I was still learning at SSCC and so intuitively didn’t feel that it was not time for me to leave just yet. Also I did not want to give up the places that I was volunteering so easily as I had set out to do volunteering for at least one year and didn’t want to end my time there right in the middle of the academic year.

Emma presenting her report at the end of project celebration event
Emma presenting her report at the end of project celebration event

Working as a Business Development Assistant has been fun as I am able to improve upon my computer skills; especially with accountancy software programs such as Clearbooks. Through this work I am more involved with the running of SSCC as an organisation rather than delivering the training that I had become accustomed to. My role involves dealing with the basic finances such as processing cheques, reconciling bank statements as well as dealing with orders ordered via the SSCC website and assisting with the running of training delivered by Asher. I’ve also been helping Greg out with some fundraising too.

It has been a great experience to work here at SSCC and I will always be thankful for the opportunity that was given to me.

 

The Young Trainees project was funded by the London Community Foundation & Comic Relief.


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