LEL alumni: Louise Middleton

Posted on February 19, 2021 by

Louise got a BA in Linguistics in 2015, followed by an MA in Linguistics in 2016 (both at LEL). Her BA dissertation on hiphop rhymes made quite a splash, as previously reported by Manchet. Louise now works as a teacher at Manchester Enterprise Academy, as well as a tutor. 

Can you tell us about your teaching career?  

I’m a secondary English teacher but I also teach primary sometimes (year 4 –6). I started in 2017, but I’d been tutoring since I was an undergraduate student. Tutoring has been invaluable experience. When you’re a teacher, that gives you the extra edge and the confidence.  

Apart from tutoring experience, what other qualifications did you need to become a teacher? 

I got my teaching qualification through Schools Direct, which means more contact time in school as opposed to time in University, and you usually work with one particular school that has contacts with others, so you spend a term or so elsewhere. This gives you a balance of experiences, but it more or less works out the same as the PGCE route and you do get the same qualification. I knew which school I was going to work at, and I’ve stayed there ever since. I quite like this familiarity because a lot of my students are from the same background as me, and I can identify with their experience. 

How much do you use your training in linguistics in teaching?  

I once worked out that I’ve taught students from nineteen different language backgrounds. Being a linguist and knowing about multilingualism put me in a much better position to be able to help those students. More generally, understanding grammar and language structure is also useful in teaching English language. Certain elements of prescriptivism come into it, unfortunately, but I find it useful to discuss it in terms of spoken language and written language being different and having their own grammars. Another example that I can think of is being able to explain how and why it’s difficult to spell in English correctly. I give my students an example of a sound, and discuss various corresponding spellings. But there is also reassurance and confidence that you can give students in telling them the difference between being able to spell and knowledge of language use. A lot of the time I can give them an explanation why certain grammatical rules are the way they are, rather than just talk of what’s correct and what’s not. 

What advice do you have for students considering a teaching career? 

I would advise them to research the various routes into teaching: PGCE, Schools Direct, Teach First. They are very very different, but they all have their merits, and it’s important to think carefully about which one might be right. I would also advise having some experience either in school and or from private tuition. A lot of tutoring agencies, for example Tutor Trust, will provide some training, resources and opportunities. This gives you some support from the start, so you’re not there on your own. It’s very important to get that hands on experience to build your confidence with students, because otherwise, you may just flounder once you’re in front of the class. Experience is also important from a practical point of view, because when you apply for teaching, they want to see that.  

Looking back at your own undergraduate experience, how can you make the most of your time at University? 

What I really valued about my own experience at Manchester is that the lecturers involved students in their work. I used every opportunity I had to get involved. I volunteered for Multilingual Manchester, collecting patient feedback at the hospital. I worked with Maciej Baranowski as a research assistant, and I volunteered at a science festival. Another research assistantship opportunity came through that. I also helped organise Linguist Mix. My advice to current students would be to grab these kinds of opportunities when they come along and get involved with the department. And If there’s a particular area that takes your interest, pursue it. I wish I’d specialised sooner and followed a specific course pathway, learning in-depth about a particular subject. I didn’t do that myself, not sure if I loved everything too much or if I’m just indecisive [laughs].  

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