Jodi Harrison, 42, was looking to develop her career again after a parental break
I wanted to go back to work as my children had started full-time school and I saw an advert for an Academic Mentor in a trade journal and it seemed like a good fit. I have a PhD and a background in science and liked the idea of sharing that experience with children; the timing was great.
I was based at Dukes Secondary School in Ashington, Northumberland, which is very close to where I live, although I had been prepared to work within an hour’s commute. I first applied in October 2020 and had an interview a few weeks later, then completed the two-week online training course the following February. I was kept informed of my progress throughout the application process. I started the contract after Easter 2021 for the whole of the summer term and I’m returning to Dukes in the role for 2021/22 this autumn.
I had to learn very quickly how to run sessions
When I started mentoring, I had to come up with my own timetable, although I was given some sessions with the teacher at first. I had to learn very quickly how to run the sessions which we’d covered in the training. It worked well for me because I’m a very proactive person and I made things happen which meant I wasn’t putting pressure on the teachers around me.
The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is a wonderful initiative, but it was a steep learning curve for everyone involved. A major concern was not having to remove pupils from lessons where they would be learning new information.
I didn’t need to spend a lot of time preparing lessons
My pupils were ones that teachers felt needed the extra support for Chemistry, Physics and Biology – my largest group was four and I covered Years 7-11, on a two-week rota, four sessions a day, around 55 minutes each. I was following what the pupils were doing in the lesson but just more intensely and in a more manageable way. I would send a quick email to the teacher to check what they were doing too.
All the lessons were also available online, so I knew what the rest of the class were doing. I didn’t need to spend a lot of time preparing lessons, probably about half an hour at the end of the day, because I was using the teachers’ lesson plans and presentations and I could sign up for other free teaching resources online. I also had a knowledge-based sheet which was a summary of the key information for each project area so that was very useful to look at and see what the pupils had to learn.
I had regular meetings with my line manager, where we reviewed the groups to see which pupils still needed help and those that didn’t, having caught up.
I enjoyed being able to do something a bit creative to help explain quite a complex point
Dukes Secondary School has a higher proportion of SEND pupils than the national average. Science is a hard one to deal with when you have someone who’s not interested. Some students enjoyed the sessions, and it boosted their confidence, but I did have some who didn’t want to be there.
What I enjoyed the most was being able to do something a bit creative to help explain quite a complex point in science or biology, particularly when you have a student who is more challenging. I introduced clay modelling so the pupils could make cells and fossils.
There’s an opportunity for an Academic Mentor with slightly different ideas. Where you have receptive staff, you can really thrive. If the school is happy to have you and says “right, how are we going to make this work”, that’s good.
They got to do something really fun, which was proper chemistry in a lab, dealing with chemicals which they hadn’t done for almost two years.
There are a variety of online meetings offering additional support for Academic Mentors in addition to a Facebook group which was a really useful forum for sharing Academic Mentors’ experiences and sharing my own.
You must be prepared to work hard and understand that it’s a team effort
Being an Academic Mentor is not for the fainthearted but if you enjoy a challenge, it’s a good insight into how a school works. You must be prepared to work hard and understand that it’s a team effort. It was a really good way to get thrown back into the workplace to prove to myself that I can still use my brain!
I found it really rewarding and as a mature person I felt more able to cope with any behavioural issues. Having previously worked in a customer service role for eight years , I was used to being a “yes” person, and pupil behaviour was something I had been nervous about dealing with. Building on my experience from year one and the support I have received from my school, I’m hoping this year to bring a bit more strength to the role by saying “these are the rules”. Being an Academic Mentor you are a little bit in between because you are there to support and boost confidence. A teacher can be more black and white, so it’s something I need to figure out for myself. But it hasn’t put me off being an Academic Mentor.
It’s brought an extra dimension to my career, giving me lots of new skills. I’ve proved I can work with pupils and show time management; all those skills are transferable and because I’ve had to go back to basics with science too that’s valuable if I want to resume a science career; it's a great role to have on my CV. It shows how adaptable I am and it's a nice way to show that I’ve supported the catch-up effort after all we’ve all been through.
Want to use your skills to make a positive impact on a pupil's life? Register your interest to become an Academic Mentor today.