HR professional turned teacher scoops Teacher of the Year accolade
Our Teacher/Tutor of the Year Aspiration Award recognises educators who have gone over and above to support their learners. This could be anything from supporting a learner facing difficult circumstances, to helping learners to overcome obstacles and surpass expectations, or delivering innovative and high quality teaching that helps learners to achieve their career goals.
This year’s winner, Dawn Waite from Halesowen College, has done all of these things, and more, wowing our judges to scoop the Teacher of the Year title.
From HR to H&SC
Dawn didn’t come by a career in teaching in a conventional way. Having studied for an undergraduate degree in Human Biology and Health Studies, Dawn initially aspired to a career in health promotion but struggled to find work after graduation.
Throughout university, Dawn worked part-time at her local Sainsbury’s supermarket where she ended up staying, ascending through the ranks to become an HR manager. It wasn’t until Dawn was approaching her 40th birthday that she decided that she wanted to apply to do a PGCE so she could become a teacher.
“I really didn’t enjoy my own school experience, it all felt very forced and prescribed,” Dawn said.
“There were occupational routes for girls and different routes for boys, it just wasn’t flexible at all which I think is why I loved college and university so much, because I finally had the freedom to choose what I wanted to do.
“I went into teaching quite late really, but I knew that I wanted to teach at a college level so that I could maybe give back to other learners, like me, who struggled through school but then found their feet in further education.”
Now in her third year of teaching at Halesowen College, Dawn specialises in Health and Social Care, teaching both the Level 2 and Level 3 Health and Social Care Extended Diploma courses for learners aged 16-18.
Nurturing the healthcare professionals of the future
Dawn sees the future health and care professional in all students, recognising their potential and nurturing their skills and qualities so that they leave college with the confidence and self-belief needed to further their health studies at university, or gain employment locally within the sector.
As a result of Dawn’s supportive teaching style, many of her students have gone on to study nursing, paramedic science and midwifery at university. Others have gone directly into employment within local nursing and residential care homes.
“I think that my teaching style has been largely influenced by my own experiences at school,” Dawn said.
“I left school feeling like I would never amount to anything because I constantly had teachers telling me that I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that. That’s the style of teaching that I’ve steered way away from, for me, it’s all about understanding learner’s insecurities and then building them up to overcome them.
“I make sure that my students know that when they’re in the classroom, they’re in a safe space, so they can talk freely about any issues or misgivings that they have. Everyone’s got the potential to achieve what they want to achieve, all I do is help learners to break down those barriers to help them get there.”
Going the extra mile
This academic year, in addition to taking on a mentoring role for two trainee teachers at the college, and a pastoral role which saw Dawn overseeing 55 tutees through the Covid-19 lockdown, Dawn also went the extra mile to support a blind student to enable her to fully access the Level 3 curriculum and ensure that her needs were considered throughout the college.
This dedication included supporting other teachers to embrace new ways of working in order to ensure full inclusivity for the student. Her relentless pursuit of ensuring that the curriculum was fully accessible both in college and from home for the learner to continue her education through lockdown also included liaising with support staff and managers across the college to ensure not only lesson resources are fully inclusive, but that the college’s physical environment was suitably adapted to ensure that it was safe and accessible at all times.
“I had previously taught students who were visually impaired but I had never taught someone who is completely blind, so it was a steep learning curve for me,” Dawn explained.
“Before the learner joined the college, her parents and support workers came in to explain to us what we needed to put in place to improve accessibility and what equipment we needed for the classroom and things, but really, it’s been a case of trial and error, communicating with her all the time to figure out what works best for her.
“I’ve probably learnt as much from this learner as she’s learned from me! She’s taught me how to use a braille machine and has given me, as well as the other learners in the group, an amazing insight into what it’s like living with blindness and how we do need to think differently sometimes to take other people’s needs into consideration. She is a fantastic student, so positive and inspirational, she’s an absolute treasure to have in the classroom.”
Spinning plates to success
Dawn had absolutely no idea that she had been nominated for the Teacher of the Year Aspiration Award by one of her colleagues, so the announcement came as a bit of a surprise.
“I’m still in shock to be honest!” Dawn said.
“I am a hard worker, and I always want to be on top of everything, but I don’t feel like by doing that, I’ve done anything exceptional, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
“Teaching is one of those professions where you are spinning a lot of plates a lot of the time and if you’re not organised, things will start to tumble. This year especially, in light of everything that’s happened with Coronavirus, I have had to be organised and manage my time effectively to keep those plates spinning.
“I think if anything, winning this award has made me realise that I am a good teacher and I am good at my job. I get learners who come to me with very little self-confidence and by building them up, I get them to go to university and enjoy what comes after that – having a career, not just a job.
“I always say to my students, it’s you who’s going to get you to university, but use me, because I can help you get there. It’s about facilitating them to achieve more than what they think they’re capable of.”
Melanie Taylor, Assistant Principal at Halesowen College who nominated Dawn for the award, commented:
“Dawn has created a classroom environment that is warm, nurturing and inclusive that supports every student to be their best. She breaks down barriers to learning for every student, enabling them to achieve results they thought were beyond their ability.
“Dawn is a true role model to her students who aspire to be like her. She is kind, tolerant and positive at all times, regardless of the challenges that arise. Without teachers like Dawn, we would not be growing and nurturing the healthcare professionals of the future. She is an excellent, respected and motivational teacher who we are delighted to have on our team.”