Last November at the Pearson National Teaching Awards, Kirsty Gaythwaite was presented with the Gold Outstanding New Teacher of the Year award and CommunityAd caught up with the Goodwin Academy mathematics teacher to find out more…
When did you realise you had a passion for teaching and that this was a career you wanted to pursue?
I realised I had a passion for teaching when I took the role of cover supervisor in 2013. It was a time where recruiting teachers, especially maths teachers, was a challenge. The school I work at were a maths teacher down in the new academic year 2014 so, I was asked to cover the timetable for the short term and here I am, 7 years later, not regretting the decision I made to pursue my career into teaching.
How difficult has the last year been for teachers during COVID-19 and how have you been able to overcome the many different obstacles that have happened during this global pandemic?
This last year has been tremendously difficult for teachers, as it has for everyone. The first lockdown and teaching from home was the hardest; or so I thought. As a staff body, we had only just been introduced to Microsoft Teams and were quickly thrown into using it to teach from our homes, to that of our students. Alongside that, a lot of us are parents of young children, so we were also having to home school them, as well as making sure that the students of Goodwin Academy were continuing to receive a high-quality education, in these very difficult circumstances.
For me, I have just been myself – cheery, upbeat and some would say a little crazy at times. It’s a good feeling when you are the reason for someone’s smile or laughter, at the receiving end of a ‘thank you’ or ‘stay safe Miss’ – but ultimately, what has helped me overcome the obstacles during this global pandemic are my students and my daughter. The way in which THEY have adapted and taken it all in their stride is nothing more than admirable. I think the credit should go to them; the heart of the community of Deal; the next generation.
How have you adapted your teaching style to work well with students online and how do you view the overall online learning experience?
It hasn’t been easy having to learn new technology and ways to not only teach the students remotely but also ways in which to assess their learning. Routine is key. Having the students know exactly what to expect every time they come to your lessons, be it in the classroom or online, makes for a successful lesson. I have enjoyed the experience of online learning. It has been really eye-opening and has made me reflect upon how I will teach when I get back into the classroom.
We have learnt how to carry out remote teaching, hybrid teaching, and flipped teaching, all in the space of 6 months.
Hybrid teaching, for me, has ultimately been the most challenging. Teaching those students in your classroom alongside those that are at home isolating, and remembering to include each and every one of them, was exhausting to say the least.
Sadly, I contracted COVID-19 at the end of October 2020. This resulted in me switching to flipped teaching – teaching from home, to the students in school and those that were self-isolating at home. During this time, I also had the worry of my parents and sister, who had sadly tested positive too and were equally very poorly, in addition to this I had to keep my distance from my daughter. It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of emotions for us all.
With all of this in mind, it is so important to be kind – always! We are all weathering this storm together but are not all in the same boat.
What has been the most rewarding part of your teaching so far in your career?
There are many parts of my teaching career that I could mention however, the most rewarding parts of my teaching career so far are the ‘light bulb’ moments. For me, the moments of clarity that students have are the ‘cherry on the cake’. Although they can sometimes be few and far between, when they do happen, it can inspire a student to progress and want to investigate further. This can lead to a whole array of questions that in turn, open up new avenues to explore and create a sense of confidence that students sometimes did not have before.
How did it feel when you won the Pearson National Teaching Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year?
I cannot even begin to put into words how it felt to win the Pearson National Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year. If anyone has seen my reaction video that The Teaching Awards shared, I think it is safe to say that it came as a complete shock. To win an award for simply doing what you love is bizarre.
My journey into teaching has not been the easiest, so for all of my continued hard work and dedication to be recognised in such a way is truly humbling.
You have worked tirelessly to ensure your students get the best chance in their exams. For year 10 & 11 students now going through, not only their most stressful period of studying but also having to do study from home, how have you been able to motivate them and keep students on track to achieve their highest grade possible?
Just showing up with a cheerful welcome, caring words and a sense of humour has been enough to motivate my students through this period of time. They themselves have shown up to each lesson and are fully engaged through responses to questions and quizzes and alongside this, it has been important to show them that we are human; that it’s okay to be feeling a mix of emotions; that it’s okay to be feeling anxious about what the next few months ahead holds for them in terms of their GCSEs; that I appreciate how challenging this current situation is for them but that I am here, right beside them, every step of the way. I cannot be there with them at present but I am still there for them.
Have the lockdown restrictions therefore made your job a hundred times harder than normal?
The lockdown restrictions of course, have made any job harder than normal however, there have been certain elements that have been easier. For instance, behaviour management for me, has not been a necessary tool to utilise with remote teaching. Setting boundaries for any child in the classroom is imperative but currently, this has not been required. The students have shown complete respect and maturity with their online learning and it has been a pleasure.
In terms of the lockdown restrictions, this has allowed time for me to reflect and take stock of what really matters in life. The things that many of us have missed in the last 11 months haven’t been the material items but more the presence of people; human interaction and hugs.
Away from teaching, what are your hobbies and interests and what do you enjoy most about living in Deal?
I’m currently not actively involved in any hobbies however; I love singing and (attempting) to dance. Music has a way of lifting your spirits and releasing endorphins. You can quite often find me with my music blaring loud, in my kitchen, singing at the top of my lungs and throwing some shapes – I take this into my classroom too. When teaching new formulae or anagrams, I will sing these to the students so that they remember them for future use. They claim to not like it however, if they remember the formulae then what’s not to like?
I only moved to Deal in 2007. It is however, a town that holds so many wonderful memories for me as my late Grandparents lived in Deal and I also attended Science Community College for my secondary education. Myself and my siblings would often take a walk to the seafront, with my Nana, to paddle in the sea and throw stones in the water. I am lucky to live so close to the sea, an abundance of countryside and endless quaint buildings and streets. For me, this is what I love most about Deal and one of the main reasons I chose to stay in Deal as I have entered into my adult life, and bring my daughter up here.