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Gemma - Head of English, British International School, Shanghai

Gemma TreebyTell us about your current job, what skills does it take?

The skills you need are diplomacy, foresight and enough backbone to know when to take a stand but enough understanding of those on either side of your role to know when to pick your battles. A Head of Department is the port of call for all points of tension - you have to be able to anticipate and support your staff's needs, ensure you deliver on School Leadership Team's expectations, working with parents if their expectations are not met and you still have to teach!

It is a serious juggling act. One of the biggest things you have to learn is that it is not just about you and your classes any more. Things you need to organise always come last and it is essential to be aware of and prioritise in advance things that everyone else needs. On the flipside, if you manage a department well; you get to see people develop and share in their delight when things go well.

You have the opportunity to become the manager you wished that you had, implement new strategies to achieve success and importantly, decide upon what you think is important for 11-18 year olds in your care to learn about your subject.

What advice would you give to others interested in teaching?

The best advice I can give is, be willing to step up. In teaching, as with any job I have ever had, you realise a lot of people are very good at being critical and feeling put upon by situations but very few are willing to put their neck out and offer a solution. Be helpful. If an opportunity arises, snatch it with both hands.

In my case, the year after my NQT an opportunity came up to step up and manage the overhaul of Key Stage 5 in English and the setting up of a huge intervention programme as they were underperforming. There was no money or hours available but this was a really interesting challenge. Stepping up to meet that challenge and having to roll out changes to experienced staff members including Deputy Heads was difficult. You need self-belief and to know what you're talking about inside-out. It is crucial that you know how to defend your ideas.

This also allowed me to develop my people skills and trying to understand people's motivations and how to use those to your advantage when you need them to implement things.

Why did you choose this career?

I got bored of every job I ever had. I had so many different jobs before teaching and as soon as I mastered a position I'd just want to leave. That's what is so great about education though - it is constantly changing and developing - it's impossible to get bored.

The seed for teaching was first planted when I helped develop the work experience programme in my department at BBC Science. I felt the way the programme was used wasn't fair, so I developed it to allow WE participants to get a more rounded experience and have more chance of getting a job out of it. This was really rewarding and I enjoyed nurturing their talent and knowing I'd been able to make a difference.

It was actually a friend of mine that did the Warwick programme that got me into it; she just thought I'd be really good at it and told me to come shadow her for a week. She was amazing and I was hooked. What is funny is when you start you are often a bit intimidated by the students and think what you will love most is getting to be involved with your favourite subject every day. What you realise when you get in is that your subject really doesn't matter - what you grow to love about the job is the relationships you build with students and the privileged position you are in to help them develop at the most inquisitive and developmental stage of their lives before the go to their 'wide futures'.

There is nothing as satisfying as the moment where you really see in a student's eyes that you have made them truly think about something. Plus students are funny as anything - it is so true what they say about teachers laughing more than any other job.

The only thing more satisfying is when those borderline students you have nail it in an exam - it is just wonderful when you can look back at hours of extra planning and intervention and conversations and lunchtimes and extra support in lesson and coursework redraft after coursework redraft and know that that means a student is going to the university of their dreams - it makes of all of that worth every second.

What's the best thing about teaching?

Getting an email from a student this summer to say thank you. She had very bad dyslexia and she revealed in the email that her GCSE teacher had told her that he didn't think she would ever do very well in English. But she worked so hard with me from the beginning - she came out of her International Baccalaureate with the highest level in her year for English. It makes you realise how easy it is to shatter a student's confidence or see them totally excel depending on the time, faith and support you are willing to give.