Melanie Paul was, as she told me ‘making waves’ at Swansea University between 2013-2016 and graduated with a degree in English Language and TESOL. About to embark on teacher training, Mel kindly spent time talking to me about her time at Swansea University.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, Mel.
I’m from Leicester in the landlocked East Midlands, where I’ve now moved back to, living with my family and dogs. After spending three years in Swansea I’ve definitely been missing it over the last twelve months, the nearest beach is now about two hours away – no longer literally across the road! Although, being a massive live music fan, I do appreciate being able to travel around to gigs much more easily. I have a lot of respect for the ‘Banksy of Punctuation’ guy for sorting out Bristol’s punctuation earlier on this year, and I find it truly surprising how many people just don’t get ‘your’ and ‘you’re’!!! You can find me on the (back) cover of the 2016 undergraduate prospectus.
What was your degree?
It was BA English Language, which later on after having completed the relevant modules, I decided to change to the English Language and TESOL title.
Why did you choose Swansea?
After being unsuccessful / changing my mind on my original UCAS choices, I made a panic ‘UCAS Extra’ choice with a uni that would definitely accept me, on a course I didn’t really want to do. Realising my panic I swiftly cancelled that choice, putting myself in the unknown until results day, which brought with it the process of clearing.
Swansea was my first and only choice in clearing, after having decided to pursue my favourite A-level topic – English Language – at degree level. I liked the look of the modules and the far-enough-from-home location, and after visiting on an open day I had a much better feeling from the staff and the environment than the others I’d been to.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Swansea University and the degree? What were your favourite topics?
I loved the independence of the whole experience, and the new opportunities it had to offer. Choosing favourite topics is hard, as I engaged with every module, but I’d have to go for Language Teaching Methodology, Psycholinguistics, Issues in Current ELT and both First and Second Language Acquisition… I did say it was hard to choose! [NB. It’s definitely useful to pick a couple of favourites to talk about in interviews, why you liked them, if you can apply anything from them to the role, etc.]
Did you do a dissertation?
I didn’t end up doing a dissertation, enabling me to take on additional taught modules instead. However, throughout the degree there were numerous assignments involving independent data collection and analysis, which I found sufficiently provided me with academic experiences to discuss when the situation arose.
Did you do CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), or a Semester Abroad?
In my second year I did CELTA. I loved it. We were pre-warned about the intensity and additional workload, but with a supportive group and brilliant tutors we coped well. I’d always thought of becoming a teacher, and the CELTA allowed me to discover my flair and passion for it. It added so much to my overall university experience; I was able to link theory to practice on a new level, and being able to relate the training to module content in third year definitely improved my understanding. As a qualified EFL teacher, I was able to work in summer schools during the term breaks, which I did in 2014 and 2016. If you’re considering doing CELTA, my advice would be to go for it!!
What are you doing now?
The terrifying reality that over a year has passed since I graduated has now well and truly settled in, so I’ll reflect a little on what’s happened since. After the summer school finished, I worked as a secretary for my Mum’s small business for a couple of months before being offered a copywriting role within a social media/PR agency. I’ve always loved writing, and knew that I wanted to explore different jobs before settling on something too soon. After quickly adapting to the role, it didn’t take long for me to realise that although I was good at it, it wasn’t for me.
I’ve always known I wanted to go into primary teaching eventually, but decided not to jump straight into a PGCE after graduating. I felt that I should try other things to confirm that teaching was the right direction for me. After thinking I would be too late to get a place on any courses starting this year, I went through a very last minute interview and testing process for Leicestershire’s school-centred teacher training course, which I’ll be starting at the end of August. I’m pretty excited.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to give my all to this year of training ahead, learning and preparing for the NQT [newly qualified teacher] year and becoming an Early Years teacher. In the longer term, I really do hope that with QTS [qualified teacher status] in addition to a CELTA and degree, I’ll be able to travel and teach English abroad at some point. I’d like to do an MA one day, too, but not yet.
How do you think the degree prepared you for work and/or further study?
As well as three years of academic knowledge, I also learned a lot about myself and other people, and I’d say I definitely left uni better prepared for the outside world. My self-confidence grew throughout the degree, and I felt ready to leave. Although there were times of doubt, my collective university experiences helped me adapt professionally to new situations – and being armed with a strong degree wherever I headed was reassuring; a reminder of what I was capable of achieving.
What was your best academic moment at Swansea?
I actually think that achieving a first overall in first year was a big one for me. My A-levels weren’t amazing, so this was me proving to myself that I’d made the right choice to study something I enjoyed and was good at, setting myself a precedent for the rest of the course.
How did you feel on graduation day?
For me, graduation day was the perfect ending to my time at Swansea. We were the first group to graduate on the first day of ceremonies on the new campus, so it was a very early start – complete with Swansea’s staple low cloud and mist, of course! Stepping outside after the ceremony, in typical Swansea fashion the skies had cleared and it was a truly glorious day. We were washed with an overwhelming sense of achievement, but the air of uncertainty was evident. I felt excited and scared for myself and my comrades, some with set plans and others (most) in the same situation as I was. It was all a bit unreal, but then I ripped my skirt during a failed cap toss and it was time to go home to reality.
What were your impressions of your degree at Swansea University, and your home department?
From the very start I was encouraged by the welcoming nature of the lecturers and college office, with staff taking the time to answer questions and get to know us. Smaller seminar groups provided great opportunities to enhance learning, and I think having a smaller class in general made for a more tailored experience. I really appreciated that help was always there – within classes, popping into offices, or through email. From what I’ve gathered, my learning experiences have been more positive than that of some friends at other universities.
Any tips for our students in their final year?
Everything is going to happen very quickly. Everyone says “it’ll fly by” or “it went too fast” about the whole three years, and they aren’t lying. I found it to be even more true of final year. If you haven’t already, pull your socks up and do the best you can – keeping on top of everything is key to not letting final-year stresses get to you, but if you need it, there is always help to be given.
Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do, try to get something lined up for after you graduate. As long as you learn something from it, it’ll be a worthwhile experience, even if that something is finding out it’s not for you. Having too much time on your hands can be quite a shock after such a busy three years, and whilst it might sound tempting and chilled, it can become detrimental and lead to choosing any old job just to keep yourself busy.
Make the most of your time left in Swansea and being surrounded by so much wisdom and knowledge. Good luck!
Favourite word and why!?
It’s not an English one, but at the moment I really like the French word for scooter, ‘trottinette’. I have a Quebecoise friend who’s been teaching me random words and this one just stuck with me, I love it.