Teacher of the Week: Emma Vellozzo, Sunmarke School DubaiJuly 10, 2017, 6:00 am GMT
Year 6 Class Teacher and Maths Curriculum Leader
Sunmarke School Dubai
Why and how did you get into teaching?
Growing up, I always loved my teachers. I think I was very lucky to have the type of teachers that really cared, not just about the test scores, but about you as a person. My mum is still in contact with my Year 6 Maths teacher and between them, they sponsor disadvantaged children in the Dominican Republic, where she still teaches (part time) at the grand old age of 75! As a typical, angst ridden teenager, it was my secondary Art teacher who picked up the baton. She was firm, and no-nonsense, but never judged, condescended or humiliated. She treated us like individuals. I am still in regular contact with her. They were my motivation to go in to teaching, but it was not until I found myself a mother of two incredible, curious, vibrant little boys, that I found the self-confidence to teach myself. I wanted to learn more about these amazing developing minds and I was ready to give something back.
How long have you been teaching for? How long have you been in the Middle East?
I qualified in 2001, and worked in a multi-cultural primary school in North London before moving to Saudi Arabia to teach at the British international school in Riyadh. After two subsequent years in Bahrain, where I had my third child and worked in a private nursery school, I moved back to England and taught in a large primary school in Yorkshire. Five years later, I relocated to the South of England, where I taught in a cosy little one form entry primary school which had a dedicated speech and language centre. A year later, I moved to Dubai with my family, and am currently teaching at Sunmarke School.
What is exciting about your role?
The most exciting part of the job is when I've planned something to do with the children, but when we get started, the children take initiative and take the learning off on a new path, but one on which we learn even more. Then there are the 'light bulb' moments, when you've really been struggling to get a child or a group to understand a new concept. You present the learning in different ways and then, all of a sudden, the child 'gets it'. It's those 'eureka' moments.
What is challenging about your role?
The most challenging part of my role is delivering, on a day to day basis, the curriculum objectives in creative, active ways that will engage all the children. Tailoring the learning to support and challenge every child, catering for every learning style.
What's the biggest myth about teaching?
Probably that teachers work a short day and have too many holidays! After many years, my husband has become very patient with the hours of planning and marking during the evening and at weekends. A great deal of a teacher's holiday is spent catching up, planning ahead, writing reports and preparing resources. You are never off the job. I could not do it if I did not love it and believe in it.
Who has been your inspiration throughout your career? Why?
I have many inspirations: my own teachers from childhood, my husband (who is not in education, but has the most inspiring work ethic), my children, and several incredible colleagues that I have had the privilege of working with over the years. What I admire and am most motivated by is their positive attitude to what they believe in and the energy that they are willing to give in order to achieve their goals.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement over the course of your career?
Definitely working with disadvantaged primary pupils. I was honoured to be part of an incredible team of people who made the difference and took the school from 'Requires Improvement' to 'Good'. Challenging the expectation and giving young people and families aspiration was very empowering.
Tell us one way a particular student has impacted your life or teaching philosophy
Many students have had a profound impact on my life and teaching, but for me, those that have had the biggest impact have come from the humblest of backgrounds. One particular little girl I taught in Year 6 had lost her father when she was just two years old. She lived on a large council estate in one of the most impoverished parts of England. She was destined, many would say, for a life on benefits. She lacked self-confidence and bit her finger nails to the quick, but she had a special gift. She loved to learn. To cut a long story short, she got level 6 for Maths at the end of Year 6, and very high level 5s for English, GPS and Science. She did not just 'want to be a vet' when she was older, she said she was going to be one. She taught me most profoundly that high achievement is not just the right of the advantaged. She taught me the principles of growth mindset before I had even heard of the term. She proved what I had previously only hoped was true.
How do you get students interested in the subject you teach – have you found an innovative way to engage students?
I like to watch and learn from other teachers. I believe in child initiated learning and am always trying to make learning activities as active as possible. In my experience, children seem to engage more when they can attach emotions to a subject. Recently, during our Titanic topic, the children produced a piece of writing in role as a survivor of the disaster. The writing produced was not brilliant, but they decided to produce photographs in role and use filter effects to age them. We used drama and role play to get the compositions right and the effects were stunning. They read their writing in role aloud, filmed it and linked it to the photographs using an app called Aurasma. Some of them didn't stop there. They went on to produce short films depicting the Titanic's sinking, displaying some very mature and artistic film making techniques and deep emotion.
Are there any specific goals you would like to achieve in your career?
Just to go on doing what I can. I like to think that no job is too big or too small. If something needs doing, I just do it.
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