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Getting the best out of every individual student: Assistant Headteacher

Jonathan is laying the groundwork for the next generation of leaders in physics by helping teachers to teach their gifted and underrepresented students at the highest possible level.

“If you want to be a teacher, the first thing you must have is an absolute love for your subject.”

First name: Jonathan | Job title: Assistant Headteacher (Learning, Teaching and Assessment) | Organisation: King’s College London Mathematics School | Qualifications: MSci, Physics with Theoretical Physics, Imperial College London

How did you get to where you are today?
When I was studying physics at university, I pretty much didn't have a clue as to where I wanted to go career-wise. Then Teach First came to the department and gave a talk. It seemed really exciting and different, and I thought it was an opportunity to bridge the gap between not knowing where to go and trying something new and positive and impactful.

I started off with Teach First at a secondary school in Nottingham. Then, I came back down to London and have been teaching in a variety of schools since, both in the public and private sector, all the way up through different year groups in secondary and further education.

What does your job involve?
I'm the Assistant Headteacher in charge of learning, teaching and assessment at a sixth-form college specialising in maths and physics. My role is essentially to make sure that the teaching is of a very high quality so that the education the students are receiving is as rich and as broad and as challenging as possible. Though my timetable is now crowded by other responsibilities, I still do get the opportunity to actually teach physics here – and without a doubt it's a real privilege to teach very gifted and interested students.

What do you enjoy most about it?
At the start of my career, I really enjoyed the interaction and excitement of being in the classroom. Even now, I still enjoy the look on students’ faces when they are introduced to a weird or cool new idea, or when they have something seemingly “boring” explained in a way that sparks a flash of curiosity. These moments remind me of how my own passion for physics and mathematics began. Being able to inspire in that regard is still the best part of the job for me.

As I gain more experience in education, I also enjoy and appreciate the importance of challenging the status quo of what a physicist looks like and sounds like. Representation of black and ethnic minorities, particularly from low socioeconomic backgrounds, is deeply important to me and I would hope just being a presence in education has had some positive effect, however small.

Can you describe some of the challenges of your role?
To this very day, the challenge is to take every student on an individual basis. As a teacher, year on year, you will see very similar academic and personal profiles, but there's always a different story, and a different need. I've been lucky to have very good mentors and mentorship programmes that have helped me decide how to implement different support or teaching strategies to make sure that individuals are accessing the education they need, at the level they need.

Another big challenge is juggling the many different roles I have to take on, especially as a senior leader. Often, sometimes in a single working day, we will teach, referee, console, shout, analyse data, complain, be complained at, train, be trained – and then we go home to mark books. Teachers wear so many different hats: at times, it can become overwhelming, especially without proper support structures in place.  

What advice would you give to a young person thinking about a career in education?
I've always maintained that if you want to be a teacher, the first thing you must have is an absolute love for your subject. If you are unashamedly nerdy and can talk for days on end about something that fascinates you in your subject area, you're already halfway there. That’s the first and main ingredient to any good teacher – having an absolute passion for what you’re doing. The essence of teaching is then to try and inspire that passion in other people, I think.

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