Alison has been in teaching for 32 years. Born in Epsom, she started her teaching career in Wimbledon but relocated to Scotland in 2000 when her husband accepted a job opportunity too good to miss. She now works with 3 to 8 year olds at ESMS (Erskine Stewart's Melville Schools), ensuring they have not only the best possible education, but a wide variety of extraordinary opportunities and lots of fun too. Here she talks to egg about becoming a teacher and the importance of early education.
What made you want to be a teacher?
I remember my first day in primary school very clearly. When my mum picked me up at the end of my day, I told her that I was going to be a teacher. That afternoon, I sat my two-year-old brother down with my teddies and ran my own class, trying to teach him how to say hippopotamus! From then on, my mind never strayed. I took opportunities to volunteer at Brownies, Guides and at my local primary school. Despite many, many years passing, I have never once wanted to anything but teach.
My Mum was my first role model. Her strong work ethic and the way in which she brought up our family was phenomenal. It’s something I still try to emulate. My Year 2 teacher was the person I most wanted to be like as a teacher (Thank you Mrs Gaskill!). She had mastered the subtle art of being fair and kind, firm but fun and I still remember the way she made each child feel valued and important, which is something we work hard to do here.
Why did you choose to work at ESMS?
When I moved to Scotland, my husband and I started to think about the future. For our children, I wanted somewhere that catered from aged 3-18 so there would be less transitions, but I also wanted somewhere that offered plenty of different opportunities so that whatever my children were interested in, they could explore. Touring around ESMS, it felt like a school I’d like to send my children to, and therefore somewhere I’d be proud to work. As they journeyed up the school, my son and daughter had such a rich variety of experiences - performing in the military tattoo, sleeping in a bothy at ‘Carbisdale’, canoeing in the highlands, playing last post at Remembrance services, playing hockey in Barcelona, even taking part in a Unicycle Club. I feel so lucky to have found ESMS because despite my two children being very different, they both discovered so many interests, along with many likeminded friends for life.
As a mother looking back from their early days in the Snowdrop room right through to the Sixth Form, I have always been so impressed by the dedication of staff, the resources but mostly by the opportunities. It speaks volumes that my children loved ESMS so much that when a new piece of uniform was recently released this year, I was dispatched to buy it so they could wear it at University!
Your favourite subject?
That’s a hard question! One reason I became a Primary School teacher was because I love variety! I’m a creative person who loves problem solving, which is lucky as it is a large part of my role. If I were an ESMS student, I would probably tell you I enjoy Discovery Zone lessons most. Our children work in teams of four to solve all sorts of problems, from building a safe for Mrs Lydon’s Jewels to building a waterproof bag for Katie Morag to deliver the mail. In these lessons the children learn about teamwork, creativity, and problem solving, all incredibly important life skills.
The school has an Open Day on Saturday 23rd September so I’d encourage people to come along and explore the schools' facilities. They’re fantastic.
Why does early childhood care and education matter so much?
Young children are like sponges, so it is the perfect time to start building foundations for a successful future. There are so many reasons that early education is important, but if I had to narrow it down to just a few it would be the safe and nurturing environment where children learn how to be part of a kind and caring community. Building strong relationships with trusted adults builds confidence which allows children to feel secure and to take risks with their learning, whether that is trying out a new word, expressing their emotions or climbing a tree.
Through a wide range of experiences at Nursery and School, children are given the opportunity to learn about themselves. This allows them to develop various aspects of themselves, including cognitive, emotional, social, and physical dimensions. This holistic approach to the early years promotes well-rounded development and is why we place so much emphasis on our specialist subjects, and why we invite so many visitors into the classroom, from owls, to authors, to fire fighters, as well as venturing out of the classrooms to visit lots of exciting places. It is a great way for children to find out not just what they are good at, but what they enjoy, what interests them and what makes them happy.
How can we help children learn at home?
I believe the most important ways are not based on supporting academic ability - that can come later. Independence is vital as it not only aids a child’s self-esteem but supports their community too. Allowing enough time for children to do up buttons, put on coats, use a knife and fork are all important skills but take time to master. You could label things around the house with words or pictures, to allow children to independently find things, and even better, to put them away! If a child is finding something hard, such as when they lose a game, parents can show them how to lose by doing so graciously themselves. It might take a while, but it is worth it. Lastly, reading to your child. Nothing ends a busy day as well as snuggling up with your child in a cosy area and reading to them. Not only are they developing an idea of vocabulary, sequencing, emotions, cause and effect and having chances to predict what comes next, but they will be developing their bond with you.
When you’re off-duty, what do you like to do?
Now that both of my children are at university, I am really looking forward to a little more ’me’ time! Apart from checking out egg on Facebook, I am a keen netball player. As part of a team, I'm always trying to keep fit (and offset those extra snacks and the odd cocktail!) ready for our next league match. I love baking too, and those of you with children who play hockey may have seen me selling a cake or two at fundraising events for the U18 Scottish boys Hockey team! I also make a pretty mean jam from the fruit in my garden!
ESMS are a unique family of independent schools for boys and girls in Edinburgh offering Nursery, Primary and Secondary education. Children are taught together from Nursery to Primary 7 after which they then enjoy the benefits of single-sex, but very closely twinned, senior education before joining together again for a co-educational Sixth Form.
Experience it all for yourself at the Open Day on Saturday 23rd September where you’ll have the chance to meet students and their teachers, explore the schools' facilities, and get a feel for the values that set them apart. Book your tour now at esms.org.uk.