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Teacher Feature - Imran Akhtar

Why and how did you get into teaching?

A lot of my childhood and young adult life was playing and coaching sports, I always imagined that my future would lie in PE teaching or sports coaching. After finishing my degree in Sports Development, I took a year out and worked in a Primary School leading sports sessions. This developed into teaching other curriculum lessons in the afternoon. This is when I realised my passion for being a class based teacher.

How long have you been teaching for? How long have you been in the Middle East?

This is my ninth year of teaching but only my second year in Dubai.

What is exciting about your role?

As a class based teacher but also Year 6 leader, there are many elements of the job which create excitement for me. Every day brings a different challenge and possibilities when working in the classroom. The children are so unpredictable in their responses and characters, which in turn makes things exciting for me. Being a Year 6 teacher itself makes things very fun as children are older and therefore understand the jokes and sarcasm, usually. The other side of my role as Year Leader is also extremely exciting as I have the opportunity to lead other great teachers. It also gives me an opportunity to not only be involved with the progress and development of my own class but another 4 classes. This in itself gives me great pleasure as I am able to be part of the growth of so many children. Then there is the quite obvious points that I lead on such as planning residential visits, drama production and transition to Secondary School which are all great fun.

What is challenging about your role?

I feel as though one of the most challenging parts of my job is to have a good work-life balance. It would be easy for myself to work all hours of the day but in the end I know that enjoying the wonderful country we live in is also extremely important. A usual day consists of myself arriving at school between 6.30am and 6.45am and not leaving on most days before 5pm. Even at 5pm, I know that I could easily stay much later and continue working but I do leave and attempt at enjoying my evening.

What’s the biggest myth about teaching?

The biggest myth about teaching is how people think that we stroll into work at 9am, do some colouring with the kids and leave at 3pm! This could not be any further from the truth as I know that every teacher that I have worked with spends evenings, weekends and holidays preparing fun and exciting lessons for all of their pupils.

Who has been your inspiration throughout your career? Why?

One of my early inspirations during my teaching career was my auntie, who is also a teacher, a secondary French teacher. Even though our subjects were very different, I learnt so much from her as she showed great enthusiasm in everything that she did, connected to teaching. She gave me lots of invaluable advice and inspired myself to teach strive to be the best teacher I could be. Further into my teaching career, I took a lot of inspiration from a colleague I was lucky enough to work with for five years. She was the best all round teacher that I have ever worked with but at the same time very approachable and always happy to help. She would never back down to challenges but most of all, her dedication to the children she taught was unparalleled to anything I had been exposed to before. She was also one of the people that convinced me to further myself into being one of the leaders in school and then also making the move to Dubai.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement over the course of your career?

Throughout my career, I have only worked at schools. The first being where I began my career. Something I regard as one of my greatest achievements is being part of a special group of people that took a failing school and within a short space of time, transformed it into an amazing school for all pupils that attended it. The area in which this school was a very deprived, inner city area of England where education was not always the priority for most parents and children. I felt as though the parents and children trusted me on so many levels, which made teaching so much easier in the classroom. When leaving this school, the reaction and positive comments I received from children, parents and staff made me feel as though I had achieved something very special in creating a successful school.

Tell us one way a particular student has impacted your life or teaching philosophy

At the start of my second year of teaching, I gained a class full of boys with great behavioural difficulties and bad reputations. I quickly learnt that each teacher has the power to have a massive impact on a child’s life. One boy in particular helped me in realising this. His home-life and background were concerning to say the least. Learning and being part of the school community were not seen as a priority in his life. This obviously had a negative effect on how he behaved in school and how he treated others. As testing as it was, I attempted to see past this and quickly made a positive relationship. I made sure that he felt welcome and safe in our classroom and that he could trust me to confide in and help him with his personal difficulties. His family were quickly involved and as a team, we worked on providing, in my opinion, an excellent school life for him. I feel as though I learnt a lot from this particular boy and it further emphasised the complexities of a child’s mind.

How do you get students interested in the subject you teach – have you found an innovative way to engage students?

Through my different experiences, I know that no two children learn the same. Therefore it is imperative that a teacher should know their children’s personalities, likes/dislikes and hobbies as soon as possible. Using this, it is then easy to relate themes, topics and activities to engage the children. I also make sure that there is lots of discussion within groups so that children can relate to what their peers are talking about. At the start of each topic, we usually have ‘hook day’ where we introduce the theme in an exciting and innovative manner. For example, one year at the beginning of our Victorians unit, I set up the classroom in a Victorian style. I myself and the other adults dressed as Victorian teachers, we used chalkboards (no interactive whiteboards) and all lessons were in silence. The children loved this and set the tone for an excellent unit of work.

Are there any specific goals you would like to achieve in your career?

My primary goal throughout my career will always be to be the best teacher I can be. I hope to develop my skills so that I can continue to lead larger teams. A clear passion I have within the profession is helping and mentoring other teachers. I have had many different opportunities to mentor teachers with less experience than myself and/or need some guidance on particular areas. On the other hand, I also like to continue to learn from other excellent teachers as teaching is a profession which is always evolving. As my experience grows, I hope to continue my role in leadership. Given my current role is leading Year 6 and the responsibilities that brings, it has given me the motivation to continue gaining experience and work my way up the ladder and hopefully become an assistant and then deputy head in a successful school.

Imran Akhtar Year 6 Leader & Teacher, Kings’ School Al Barsha