Meet Thomas Courtley, our inspiring Education Specialist for the UK - Part 1

Jan-Wolter Smit

Head of Education

Teachers are extremely important because they have the power to change students’ lives by showing humanity and compassion to all of them, no matter who they are.
Thomas Courtley
Education specialist
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1. Hi Thomas, you are new at LessonUp, working as an educational specialist based in the UK. What does that mean exactly?

Being the first UK-based LessonUp employee, I give my colleagues advice concerning what’s happening in the UK education system. 

I was raised and trained in this system, and worked within it for 10 years. That gives me a solid foundation to provide tips and honest feedback to my colleagues. It also means that I have a good understanding of teacher practices, and of what teachers might want to know about LessonUp before they start working with it. I will do my best to help them channel their experience into the platform, based on real-life classroom challenges.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge of being a teacher is being able to adapt to unforeseen changes.
Thomas Courtley
Head of Education
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2. Before working at LessonUp you used to be a teacher. For how long? And what did you teach?

As mentioned above, I have been a teacher for approximately 10 years. 

During this period of time I have worked as a trainee, a literacy and numeracy coordinator, a history teacher, and a geography teacher. In time, I worked my way up the ladder and became head of humanities, head of geography, head of PSHE (personal, social, health & economic) and RE (religious education), in a number of different secondary schools. 

I chose to work in outer South East London, within comprehensive schools with high levels of Pupil Premium Students. I also come from a disadvantaged area, and my background motivated me to teach and connect with students who are facing similar realities.

3. What was your most challenging experience as a teacher? 

In my opinion, the biggest challenge of being a teacher is being able to adapt to unforeseen changes. The ability to constantly adapt, and the willingness to want to change yourself and your teaching to new situations. 

To mention a relatable example, one of the recent major changes in the UK was when the grading system moved from letter grades to a numeric system. This change generated some confusion. Both teachers and students faced some struggles, and then slowly got used to working with it.

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4. Why are teachers so important? 

Teachers impact young people in ways they cannot fully comprehend. 

Thinking back, some teachers positively improved my life. When I was around 16 years old, my secondary school art teacher sensed that I was going through a rough patch. It had been a roller coaster of a year: one of my best friends had passed away, and I felt myself dropping off at school. 

My art teacher sensed this and let me hang out in the art room after school hours, for as long as I wanted. Sometimes he tried to talk to me, asked me how I was, but generally he just let me create my art in peace. He gave me a safe place to express myself and deal with my emotions creatively.

Teachers are extremely important because they have the power to change students’ lives by showing humanity and compassion to all their students, no matter who they are. In my case it was a safe space to express myself, but all students have different needs. Nobody can train teachers to sense those needs, and find solutions for their students.

5. You obviously enjoyed teaching. So why did you decide to become an education specialist instead?

As a teacher, I got to a point where I started to see gaps in the education system. I knew there were solutions to these challenges, and wanted to dive into resolving them in the wider sense of the word.

I chose to use my skills and experience to make an impact on education from a different angle. I now strive to support teachers in finding their own, perfect version of themselves in the classroom. To do so, I believe in digital tools that aid them in expressing their teaching style: from organising and monitoring their classes efficiently, to engaging and supporting their students in the most effective, emphatic ways.

Interested in more? Check out meet Thomas Courtley - part 2