Would you like to spend your days teaching teenagers how to make clothes? As a secondary school textiles teacher this is part of what I do… a small part though.
I often get asked how I ended up being a textiles teacher and what my job involves, so pull up a chair and let me tell you all about it.
I have been sewing and knitting since my mum taught me when I was very young but I haven’t always been a sewing teacher. After I left school, I studied journalism at university and went on to work as a news reporter on a local newspaper in my home town in Lancashire. I left the north west, and journalism, and moved to London in my mid twenties with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. After a string of dull office jobs I decided that I wanted my hobby – sewing and knitting- to become my day job. Back then I didn’t really know what I could do with these skills. But I knew I wanted to go back to university and I knew I definitely didn’t want to become a fashion designer. I never even considered becoming a teacher until I went to work one day wearing a hand knit scarf and my then boss said “that’s really good, you should teach kids how to knit”.
And that was it…. I went to Goldsmiths University and did a 3 year BA Ed course in Design and Technology with Education. The more common route is to do a one year PGCE course but, feeling like I had something to prove, I really wanted to do a full three year degree. I loved my degree course and I ended up specialising in textiles and finishing with First Class Honours. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher though.
Textiles is on the National Curriculum and it is taught in most schools. It usually comes under Design and Technology and is taught alongside Food Technology, Graphics and Product Design (wood and metal work to most of you!) but often it is taught as part of Art. I trained as a Design and Technology teacher, which means, in most schools, I would be expected to teach all areas of Design and Technology, not just textiles.
So anyway… I graduated in 2010, aged 34, and got a job in quite a tough London school, teaching graphics and a little bit of textiles. I stayed there for three years, still not sure that I wanted to be a teacher but seemingly, very good at teaching. Then I got my current job and felt like I had won first prize. I was taken on at an Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ school to introduce textiles to the school. I was to be the sole textiles teacher and had total control over what I taught. I would just be teaching textiles, no other areas of D&T. An amazing and really unusual opportunity.
I love my job and I am finally sure that I want to be a teacher. I teach all ages from 11 year-olds to 18 year olds. With the younger ones I teach basic sewing skills, using a sewing machine, applique, tie dye and designing. We make plush toys and slippers. GCSE textiles is more about construction and we do a lot of clothes designing and making. At A-level it goes up a notch and becomes a lot more creative. We do a lot of free machine embroidery, fabric manipulation and more advanced pattern cutting. As one of my students put it… “at A level you stop designing pretty dresses and have to ask yourself would ‘Lady Gaga wear this?'”
I do love my job and yes I do get to teach my hobby every day but it is not always easy. Teenagers are usually fantastic to work with but there are times when they are unpredictable and difficult. There is a lot of work to do and most nights I go home so exhausted that the last thing I want to do is start sewing or knitting. The rewards more than outweigh the negatives though. I get to make a difference every single day. Nothing beats that.
If you are interested in becoming a textiles teacher – and do remember that jobs teaching just textiles are few and far between – then my advice to you is to visit a school. Visit several schools and just get a feel for it. Visit my school if you like! I think you will know quite quickly if it is for you or not. And if it is, then go for it… it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.