As part of our new effort to celebrate local success, we interviewed a trainee teacher who has just accepted the job of her dreams! We wanted to hear about what life is like as a trainee teacher, especially through the pandemic, and how she came to successfully secure her first teaching job.  

Trainee Teacher - Gemma Henderson

Meet Gemma Henderson! A 21 year old trainee teacher from Sheffield. Gemma shared some insights into her journey to becoming a qualified English Teacher at Westfield Secondary School.

After studying English at Loughborough University, Gemma chose to take the plunge and started training to be a teacher. She decided to go through the School Direct teacher training route with the Sheffield Teaching School Alliance, also known as the STSA.

Despite the pandemic, Gemma did her teacher training school placements at Westfield Secondary School and Meadowhead School.

She tells us what it’s been like as a trainee teacher during COVID-19.


 Q. Why did you decide to become a trainee teacher? 

“I have always gravitated towards working with children. I’m the oldest in the family and have a younger brother and younger cousins who I’ve grown up around so I’m used to telling the little ones what to do. Because of that, teaching was always a natural path for me. I’ve always had in the back of my mind ‘I’m going to be a teacher’ and it’s just lucky for me that I have ended up absolutely loving it and that it has worked out really well.”

Q. Did you have anything in mind in terms of what you imagined it would be like to be a trainee teacher and has it lived up to those expectations?

“I imagined it being hard work and busy and it definitely has been that, especially during the pandemic. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much in the first year. You hear all the time about teaching being this really stressful profession but I’ve honestly loved it. There are stressful times of course, but you might have a stressful 20 minutes and the rest of the day is amazing. That’s what I’ve really loved about this year. Although it can be stressful and it is hard work, and all those things about teaching are true, there are also so many amazing things that come out of it as well and just to see the kids develop is amazing so it makes it all worth it.” 

Q. What was the application process like when applying to be a trainee teacher? 

“There is a full application and interview. I had never done an interview before so I was quite stressed about it. Everyone is so lovely though and it turned out to be one of those things where you’re really scared but within the first couple of minutes, you’re put at ease. Helen and Jen at the STSA are so amazing and lovely and they just put you at ease straight away. Coming straight out of university the full application felt quite similar to a reference, so it didn’t feel too far removed from what I was used to.” 

Q. So, why did you choose to be a trainee teacher through the Sheffield Teaching School Alliance as opposed to any other providers?

“The whole school-based training was right up my street, especially having just done three years of university. I did enjoy the lectures at uni but I wanted to spend as much time as possible away from lectures and in the classroom instead and I wanted to get a feel for what teaching actually is. 

I’m also a bit of a worrier so I think for me, a course where I was thrown in at the deep end suits me a lot better than having more time to build up my worry. Going straight into the classroom, after the first three weeks of training, really suited me.” 

Q. What kind of support did you get from the Sheffield Teaching School Alliance?

“I was completely supported as soon as the interview had finished. I applied for the course in June, which was quite late in the year to apply, but that did mean that it was pretty full on in terms of meeting other trainees on the course and getting put straight into my school. Because it was quite close to the starting date it meant that all the support was fully put in place already.

I was able to contact the STSA and the school so I knew exactly what was happening before the holidays, which meant I was able to then relax over the holidays and know what I was getting myself into in September. 

Then starting in September we had three weeks of training which was quite full on but it never felt overly intense. I think that was because everyone was so lovely. Like I say, Helen and Jen are so lovely, even now every week they send us different emails of support and keep up to date with us all so it does feel like a family even now.”

Q. Take us back to that first day as a trainee teacher when you had to take a class yourself. What was it like?

“Terrifying. I was absolutely terrified. 

We started off with ‘starters’ which is literally just 10-15 minutes in front of the class instead of having to do the full hour of teaching. So it was terrifying but it was one of those times where once the first couple of minutes were out the way it wasn’t as bad as I’d been building it up to be. It was from that point that I was like ‘oh I can do this! This isn’t too bad!’ 

It’s pretty amazing thinking back that just within the first couple of weeks of being at school I went from being absolutely petrified at the thought of standing up at the front of a class of kids, to actually thinking I can teach all of these lessons now!”    

Q. Usually, when you’re in a placement you start to feel part of the school community quite quickly. Seeing as you’re training through the pandemic, and you couldn’t go and sit in the staffroom to chat to people, how have you built relationships?

“In terms of the full school, in all honesty, I probably still haven’t built those relationships quite as much because of the pandemic. But in terms of the department, I’ve been lucky to be in a smaller department, which works nicely because it means that we do all get to know each other. They have all been very inclusive from the get go. I remember getting an email on my first morning in the school telling me to come to this certain room for lunch and being able to meet everyone which was nice. It felt like from the start I was part of this team. The STSA always told us to expect that but I never knew if it was actually going to happen like that, but it was absolutely everything they said it would be.” 

Q. Did you do a second placement or did the pandemic limit that to only one?

“Yes, I did a second placement. I was at Meadowhead for six weeks from the half term, just after Christmas. That was completely different because it was all online. I still did one day in school with my mentor and once again I was really lucky because she was amazing with me and really supportive. It did mean that it was much harder to make those relationships, especially having everything online and having that in-person communication stripped away. But Zoom and Teams were great so I was still able to meet them and feel as though I did know these people. It’s weird thinking now that I had never actually met them. But because we had spent hours on Teams, had phone calls and online meetings together, I did feel like I knew them by the end of it.” 

Q. So you’d never actually met your students at Meadowhead face to face?

“Nope, I could walk past them in Tesco and not know, and they probably wouldn’t know who I was either! Which is strange when I’ve been teaching them for six weeks!“

Q. When you then had to start thinking about applying for jobs, did you get support from the STSA with that as well?

“Yes, we’d had a couple of sessions prior to having to apply in December after our first placement. The STSA put on a couple of sessions on interview techniques and tips, how to apply for jobs and what to expect in terms of the interview. We had to teach a lesson for the interview which is so unlike any other interview I’d done. They fully supported us and without those sessions, it could have been very different for me. Luckily I felt like I was going into the interview prepared and as ready as I could be. Considering it was my first interview, I at least knew what I had to expect.”

Q. Congratulations on getting a job at the school you did your placement in! Is that common?

“I wouldn’t say it’s common but I know I’m definitely not the first person for that to happen to. I think there are a few trainees from the STSA who have got jobs from their first or complementary placements. When we were first told where our school placements were, the STSA said ‘You might end up here, you never know!’, so it was always a possibility and I did have that in the back of my mind.” 

Q. What are you most looking forward to about having your first permanent job as a teacher?

“I’m really looking forward to being able to teach by myself and taking on that full responsibility. Also feeling like part of a team, and part of the department and being an actual member of staff. It has been lovely going back there because I feel like I am part of the team already. It is a really good feeling.”

Q. Is there anything else you’d want to say to people thinking about training to be a teacher? 

“I’d say just go for it. Anyone that is thinking about it, or even doubting it, absolutely just go for it! Going into teaching is without a doubt the best decision I’ve made. I never thought that I’d be loving it as much as I am. Especially considering the restrictions we’ve had, I feel like there have been things I really want to do in the classroom that I’ve not been able to touch on yet. I just love it. So anyone who is thinking about it, just apply. The kids are amazing and it’s the kids who are at the heart of everything. Although it’s daunting, the kids just want to know that you’re there for them. If you can show them that you’re there for them, they’ll show you the love back.” 

Finally, we want to say a huge thank you to Gemma for taking the time to chat with us at the South Yorkshire Teaching Hub. From all of us here, we wish her the very best in her new teaching career. We have no doubt that she’ll be absolutely fantastic. 

If you’re a trainee teacher, early career teacher, or long standing teacher, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re happy to have a short, 30 minute or so, video call or if you’d prefer to fill out a short questionnaire please don’t hesitate to contact us. We love receiving your messages!

Thinking about becoming a teacher? Read more here.