Sisters can be quite useful, occasionally. They’re great for the following:
- Borrowing clothes, make up and shoes
- Advice on important matters, such as
boyfriendscareer choices and life in general
They’re also pretty handy when you want to visit a school, which as a member support officer I’m always keen to do – I can get to know our members better and help them get the most from The Key. Luckily for me, my sister Amina Ali is an assistant headteacher in an inner-city secondary academy.
Amina has been a teacher for over 12 years, but I’d never seen her in action until I spent the morning with her at Northwood School in Hillingdon, west London. I was given a guided tour of the school, watched an excellent drama performance by a group of year 8 pupils, and felt confused during a French A-Level class.
I met with the assistant headteacher in charge of pastoral, who showed me a whole-school behaviour document that looked more like a plan for a military operation. I attended a meeting about ‘life after levels’, which I spent chatting about assessment with one of the school’s PE teachers. Here I was stunned – while I knew that our articles on this topic (log-in required) have been super popular with our members, I hadn’t grasped just how much work is required each time a government introduces another new policy. I realised that senior leaders, teachers and pupils really are learning the way together.
Relishing the chance to grill my sister, I then asked Amina a series of questions about her role, and learned some things about her that I hadn’t known before …
Why did you become a teacher?
Amina: I’ve always loved learning, and am aware of what a privilege it is to be educated because of the limited education my parents received in Bangladesh. Even so, my own educational experiences at times weren’t great: I look back on some things with a sense of frustration because I know things could have been better. If I think that something can be improved, I always want to see how that can be done, rather than sitting back and complaining: that’s why I became a teacher. Teaching also gives me the opportunity to help children realise their life chances, and to show them that someone wants to do their best to help them succeed.
What is the best thing about your job?
Amina: I’ve had some really proud moments in relation to exam results, levels of progress etc., but none compare to seeing children’s attitudes towards education change and knowing that I’ve been able to make a difference there. I’ve come up against some negative attitudes towards education during my career, and have also dealt with intolerance to the extent of facing daily verbal abuse and intimidation. It’s something of an understatement to say that these were tough times! However, many of the children who at one time had refused to even enter my classroom because of deep-seated prejudice came to thank me for my efforts later on, once they had come round to my expectations and realised that I wasn’t going to give up on them. It was an emotional moment and made me realise that we teachers have the power to change hearts and minds every day.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring teachers?
Amina: There have been times where my friends and family have seen me struggling and feeling low. I’ve received well-meaning advice, such as “You should do something else” and “There are easier jobs out there”. Nevertheless, because I’ve always had it in my heart to be a teacher, I don’t think anything else out there would be as rewarding. In essence, if teaching is what you really want to do, expect hard days and moments of unbelievable pressure, but know that you’ll get through it and that those moments are nothing compared to the ones where you realise the difference you’re making to children’s lives.
What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?
A florist or an event planner. I’ve always loved flowers and being creative, I’m very organised (the children might say I’m bossy!), and I enjoy seeing others having fun.
I’ve only ever known Amina as my big sister, so to see her at work in school was quite surreal. I could see the confident authority she projected and how much the pupils respected her, and as we spoke I could tell from her face how much the role meant to her.
I know it’s a cliché but, as an outsider looking in, it was the first time I’ve really understood how much influence a good teacher can have. Being an educator is about so much more than just teaching a subject at the front of a class: the support, encouragement and care that teachers give could impact pupils’ lives forever. Although it’s massively scary to think about it that way, it also seems incredibly rewarding, and I completely understand why so many teachers are committed to the profession.