Tuesday, 9 October 2018

My first few weeks at uni

Just 3 weeks ago, I was sitting on my living room floor surrounded by bags and boxes that were to be loaded into the car the next morning to start my 200 mile journey to Wales. I never thought that I would be in the position I was, with AAA in my pocket and a place at Cardiff University.
As we crossed the bridge, inevitably, it began to rain. I was too busy battling the rain while carrying all my belongings up the stairs to really take in my new campus. I was so excited to decorate my room and make it my home for the next 9 months, so I brought photo frames of my family and friends with me to put around the room. Doing something small like this meant that I could still see familiar, friendly smiles even when I was hundreds of miles away in a new city I had never been to before. When my Dad had left me standing in the doorway of my new home, a huge wave of emotion came over me and it finally hit me that I was really doing this!
I already knew who some of my flatmates were through finding them on social media pages, so I had some idea of who I was going to meet. I’d heard horror stories of people moving into halls and having the worst flat imaginable and I was so worried that my flat wouldn’t like me (or I wouldn’t like them!). I was incredibly lucky because my flat, and the flat next door, are some of the most interesting, funny, and approachable people I have ever met. Everyone is in the same boat, worrying about who they’ll be living with and I’m guilty of it too, but I shouldn’t have been so nervous because I’ve met some really amazing people. I would definitely recommend finding social media pages for your university- you will find people in the same position as you and you will be able to build that little bond way before you even move to your new city. Not only have I made friends on my floor, but induction week means you meet even more people from all over who you see settling into university life too. I, again, have been enormously lucky that I had made some friends over social media and during induction week meaning my flat’s kitchen is almost never empty and there’s always a new story or joke to hear.
I found it strange to tell stories about my friends to people who didn’t have a clue who they were, and this made me miss home so much. It wasn’t until one of my new friends had a bit of a meltdown that I knew bottling emotions up like this was really not the best idea. I rang my grandparents and my parents and tried to come off as calmly as possible, but hearing family voices over the phone and knowing they’re in a different country made things seem almost too real and really quite overwhelming. I talked to my friends about how I was feeling, just to find they were in the exact same position and we realised that we weren’t alone at all, and that the bonds we were making crying over missing home after having too many slices of free pizza, were going to help us feel even more settled. I text my family almost every day, even if it’s just sending some photos, just to let them know I really am okay.
It is so true, that during freshers’ week you will sign up to loads and loads of societies, and attend maybe 3 of them. I knew before I came to university, that I wanted to do dance and netball alongside my studies so I have been more inclined to actually turn up than I have for the rowing club (that I don’t quite remember putting my name down for). I’m quite lucky that my course is known as “long and thin”, meaning I don’t have many contact hours. It’s meant that I have been able to balance my lecture and seminar time with reading time as well as time for sports and other leisure clubs. Having a huge academic calendar and a planner helps a bunch too!
If I were back in year 13, applying through UCAS again, I would definitely have paid more attention to what I was actually doing. I never planned to go to university, so when I was pressured by teachers to apply for 5 different universities that I had no interest at the time, I chose 5 random universities as far away from London as possible, without actually looking at what I was applying for. I also didn’t visit any of my choices which was a huge mistake because I feel as if I had come to Cardiff earlier than my move in date, it would have made my decision much easier and I would have known much earlier that this is where I wanted to be. It wasn’t until results day that I made up my mind after having done some research about my options that I decided Cardiff was where I really would like to go. I absolutely love my course because I am genuinely interested in it (no way could I see myself sitting in an office now) and I do look forward to my lectures every day. Obviously university isn’t for everyone, and I was convinced it wasn’t for me either. Keeping your options open is the most important piece of advice I have. Some people thrive moving straight from sixth form to work and some feel it’s best to take some time out to work out what they really want to do.
University really isn’t for everyone, and as someone who had options of both university and an apprenticeship, I would say do what YOU want to do. Don’t listen to your teachers or parents about what they think is best or what they want their school statistics to say- do what makes you happy and what you will want to spend the next few years doing. Sometimes advice given by those who are older than us is not always the most helpful thing. I had arguments for both options constantly in my ear and I wanted to make this life decision by myself. Don’t choose something just because your friends are doing it or because it’s ‘just what happens’, there are so many opportunities available to young people nowadays that you can be successful regardless of which path you choose post A Level.
I’m looking forward to what the next 3 years has to hold, and to the new people I’m going to meet, and to the exciting experiences I’m going to have. It is going to be difficult sometimes, but there is always someone on the other end of the phone, and there is always someone next door who can cheer you up.
One more piece of advice: if you do decide that university is for you, stock up on tissues and Strepsils; freshers’ flu WILL catch you!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

How I’m keeping on top of my teacher training workload

My journey applying for teacher training was a long and bumpy one. I had constant doubts in my confidence and the feeling that it was never the right time.  I have two young children and the prospect of balancing my priorities at home and my personal life, alongside the consuming desire to teach, filled me with both fear and excitement. I was daunted and questioned how I would be able to cope. 

I’m only three weeks in and I guess there are a lot of hurdles to come and the workload is going to increase, in addition with responsibility of starting to teach and be accountable for my lessons.

Working efficiently
Early on, I decided that if it was going to work, with my demanding family life, there would be no room for time wasting – I had to work efficiently. I have set up a framework which prioritises what needs doing immediately, what can wait till the weekend and the general workload that requires a long-term strategy. I set parameters so when I am in ‘mummy mode’ I try hard to not get distracted in something to do with teacher training. I am learning to structure my time and when I am not studying or preparing for school, to try and have a break and my break is being with my children. Having a bit of distance and perspective allows me to return to work more objectively. 

Staying in control
Rome wasn’t built in a day and my aim is to try and stay on top of things, so I don’t waste time feeling flustered and working out what I need to do. Post-it notes are my new best friend, but a clear list of priorities and keeping on top of things so far has kept the lid on feeling that everything is out of control and has allowed me to not feel guilty when I’m with my family.

If you are thinking of applying then go for it, there will probably never be a right time. However, if you don’t go for it, the regret could last a life time.

How to do well in your A Levels

We’ve all been there; in our heads we know we are capable of great results yet, on paper (and in some of our teacher’s heads) this doesn’t seem possible. I ended my first year of A Levels getting C’s and D’s in my exams. I started 2018 (the year of my exams) with an E and D in my English essays. I. was. Freaking. Out: I wanted to go to Durham and so I needed A* A A! I had to plead with my history teacher to predict me an A. She told me I should probably apply to universities asking or C’s and D’s instead.
Yet, I ended up getting four A*’s and an A* in my EPQ in my exams.
Although I know this partly came about because I a) went to a good college and b) had time to study and c) had no big commitments like being a carer, it also occurred due to one thing all students can do: work hard. I know not all students want those grades- which is fine- but, if you are like me, and want to make the most out of every situation and prove naysayers wrong, then this advice is for you.
(p.s. I know some of you may think that I relied on natural talent or being clever. This couldn’t be further from the truth- I am no better than anyone else and I believe anyone can succeed if they work hard)
1. If you don’t know it, ask
I probably had more of a relationship with my teachers than my friends in the last few months of Sixth Form. I was constantly thinking about how to improve myself to do better- a planner is a great way of documenting any sudden queries you have. I would ask my teachers questions at the end of lessons frequently. I gave in extra essays, asked for short meetings to go through things. My natural state is to be an introvert so I understand how some students my find this at first difficult. Now, I also know not all teachers allow you to do this. In this case, I confided with other students and other teachers for help. Take every opportunity you can; workshops, meetings, asking to go to extra lessons. By the end of revision I wouldn’t let a “no” stop me.
2. Keep determined
We all have those teachers who don’t feel the need to give students extra help, or do not have the time to support you so you need to be self-determined to do well. There were some students around me who had Oxbridge offers even though they were getting C’s in tests and had bad personalities. Yet, if you isolate yourself from this- block everything out, determination will empower you. Don’t think about what others are doing, just yourself.
3. Learn early
Doing linear A Levels (side note: who ever thought this was a good idea?) means you have to remember a lot of information in a matter of weeks. My 40% component in history covered 1855-1964 Russia- try remembering how to spell Vyshnegradski and Lunarcharsky when you are all stressed out. I knew it would be hard to learn so much. That’s why in the Christmas holidays before exams I started making revision cards for this topic. By May, I had them pretty much revised and learnt. People in my history class would wonder how I remembered it- the trick is to start early so that you don’t get stressed out about it. One teacher of mine used to say that the best prep for exams is to “know your stuff”; starting early is the best means of getting to this stage.
4. Try to see A Levels in a positive light
This can seem a hard one.
Although some annoying people say that A Levels are not simply a memory test and accurately assess your knowledge, this is utter nonsense. I love education and know I am lucky to have it, for free, but, memorising the four-step guide on how to write a conclusion and sitting in a hall for 3 hours is not education, learning, or worthwhile. The hardest thing was revising knowing that it was really, actually, a waste of time and mentally straining. Yet, one thing I did learn from my A Levels, is that hard work can get you anywhere- if you try, you will succeed. Just learn how to write the essay, how to make unique points and what the examiners want without thinking too deeply knowing that A Levels are positive because they teach you about working hard, and not necessarily test your intelligence.  
5. See A Levels in a negative light
Who cares? Knowing that the exams don’t define you is critical. I worried since the beginning of A Levels about my exams. I wondered how on earth I would function and not have panic attacks constantly. Yet, when actually doing them, I was happy and I slept easy. This is because I had worked hard and I also didn’t really care about what I got. I knew that what I was writing in my exams was some superficial construct that was made with the sole intention of fulfilling a spreadsheet rather than measuring my intellectual capability. I learnt way more in lessons than doing the exams and knowing that the grades I gained did not define me made the exam process so much easier.
6. Know your limit
One thing I promised myself was that I would not allow myself to become a wreck due to exams. I heard stories of students not eating, fainting, and harming themselves. I set myself a limit; if I was to ever feel complete dismay and depression I would not take it any further. I knew it wasn’t worth it. I think this mentality actually kept me sane because I knew that my livelihood was more important. I would advise you to do the same; know your boundaries and promise yourself to never go beyond them.
So yeah, it takes revision and hard work. You have to own what you’re doing and not become a victim to the exam boards which definitely do not measure your true potential. I’m no smarter than anyone else- and I don’t want anyone to measure themselves by their grades, it makes no sense. But, I did the work, I had a goal for myself (not created by my family, teacher or uni) and made it happen. Now, I’m starting university to start the whole process over again!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Things to look forward to when starting university…

Starting something new can be daunting, especially when it involves meeting new people and coming out of your comfort zone. Starting university is a nerve racking experience for even the best of people but it is also a new and exciting journey which opens many doors for your future.

We all come to university to study a degree in something we believe we will enjoy. But it isn’t just the prospects of starting a degree in something you are passionate about which gets you fired up. If you’re like me you have probably started looking into what you’re entitled to, what you can get up to and all the excitement which involves starting your degree. Here listed below are a few ideas and some of the reasons I am excited to start my degree.

- Moving into your new home
Being able to have your own space, being near your friends and having the city right on the door step is a great reason to be excited.

- Book Plus card
Books and materials can become very expensive so one thing that really excited me is ARU’s Book Plus card which gives each student up to £400 to spend on any materials they may need for their course. I think this is brilliant and I definitely will look forward to using it.

- Receiving your maintenance loan
I don’t think I’d have been able to join ARU without the help from student finance. Being able to afford my new laptop and train tickets without having to worry has really helped me a lot. Receiving a big chunk of money can be exciting but remember… spend it wisely!

- Join a society
What are your hobbies? May it be cooking, Art, or even Starwar’s there is something for everyone! How about making your own society?

- Join the gym
If you are a lover for working out there is a gym at every campus with reasonable prices. You can pay yearly, monthly or if you fancy a one off visit that’s possible too.

- Make new friends
I thought I’d include this because it isn’t just at campus where you meet people. There are many Facebook groups or chats which you can join and it is a great and efficient way to speak to new people and make friends. Facebook groups are my go-to for any needed advice or questions I may have.

- Explore the city
Whichever campus you are at you will most probably be away from your home town. It is a great opportunity to get to know the cities as there is amazing things to do and they’re all different in their own way!

Those are just a few of many reasons to be excited about joining university. I could have included so many more but I think those are the main, honest points which make me look forward to it the most.

Its time to move to university

Moving to university is perhaps one of the scariest journeys any 18-19-year-old will take during their lifetime. Thrust suddenly from the comfort and security that is home, your suddenly put into the oddest of scenarios where your living with perfect strangers in an equally foreign city. Every one of your brain cells is screaming to go home, to go back to what you know, and as soon as your family and friends shut that door and make their way home without you, it all becomes suddenly real. Suddenly you’re the adult now. And that is a one hell of a feeling, I can promise you.

That said, it’s not all bad! Once you have got over the initial shock of leaving home, things do begin to get better. You’ll still feel homesick, but that’s something that’ll become easier as time goes on- the best thing you can do is keep yourself busy, and don’t let yourself sit alone in your room with just thoughts for company. Get out and talk to people- at university being nosy is unfortunately the best policy! Knock on neighbouring doors, get chatting to flatmates if they’ve moved in already- just get yourself out there! Although I know it’s easier said than done, as a sufferer of terrible anxiety I say that if I can do it, so can you!

One great way I discovered to get myself meeting people was by simply messaging a group chat my accommodation team had put together for people living in my building. All I put out there was that I wanted to meet some of my flatmates, and that I’d love to explore the place we were living within with a fellow roommate. Surprise surprise I got a response- there will be hundreds of people just like you, looking to find a familiar face, and when you find them, there are so many places you can go to get to know each other. If your living in a city, see if there are local attractions or museums to visit- even if its just a stroll round a gorgeous park it’ll give you a place to meet that has plenty of things to chat about, which hopefully will lead to you becoming fast friends.

Finally (and I think most importantly) have fun and be proud of yourself- not just anyone gets into university and that you got this far is an amazing achievement which deserves a huge pat on the back! Your going to be scared out of your mind, have more fun than you’ve experienced in your whole life, and eventually, make some of the strongest friends who will no doubt stay with you for the rest of your life. Good luck, and remember:

‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.’
A.A Milne