Together we Transform: Thomas Rea - Walsall College

Thomas Rea, Lecturer in business on sports and marketing at Walsall College, tell us about how his move from secondary education to further education (FE) came about, and how it has transformed his career since.

Headshot of Thomas Rea - Walsall College

What made you choose to work in Further Education?  

I decided to work in further education because I started off in school environment. In secondary school. Well, I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a kid in secondary school. And then I just naturally progressed into a college, I just loved the idea of what I loved. And I was passionate about business studies when I was at school. 

I love business as well. So it was a natural progression for me. I went to study business studies at university, and then I became a business teacher in a secondary school, did my training, and then a job came up at Walsall College and I naturally progressed into FE and since then, I haven’t looked back.  

What are the top three things that excite you about your career in FE?  

The top three things that excite me about FE – one that I get continual CPD, so the job is never the same every day. I’ve always got room to change and develop and that’s one of the excitements. And the other is seeing the students and the faces and being able to pass on knowledge to them and watching their development and watching them grow.  

And I think lastly, it’s just me that that gratification that I’m doing something for someone and giving back to society and knowing that a lot of students in the background and learning about them and getting to know them, know them and giving back to society is why I do teach.  

How has working in FE transformed your career?  

So when I started in a secondary school, it was very much I was under the impression okay so here’s a teacher, this is their role, this is what they do. And it was a very linear approach. But when I moved into FE, I kind of realised that teaching isn’t just about what happens in a classroom, it’s encompassing everything.  

So with the Professional Standards and everything else, it’s now in that it’s changed my understanding that it’s not just about my impact in the classroom, it’s about everything else for the wider the wider college and the wider community.  

What inspires you to turn up to work every day?  

Being able to teach and see the students and watch them progress generally knowing that I’m doing that today, I’m going to see how well they’ve got on or watching that development in that progress with the students and seeing where they’ve come at the beginning of the year until the end and making that difference.  

What do you admire about your teaching colleagues?  

So what admire about my teaching colleagues is their passion and their drive to want to make change and want to help and support the students around Walsall and, and just that ability to want to educate each other and help and support each other in their teaching careers.  

In what ways do your students inspire you?  

The different ways that students inspire me. Just that everybody’s unique, each student’s not the same and the way they tackle something and approach something is different. And when I can say a student who comes to me at the beginning maybe doesn’t have a lot of confidence and then leaves me at the end of the year, a change with a lot more confidence that inspires me to want to do more.  

What is the role of a good FE teacher in making a difference to quality teaching and learning?  

One of the signs of a good teacher is the ability to have empathy and an understanding of individual students’ needs. It’s not a one size fits all. And when we get students who come from our FE from that school background, we don’t know what background they’ve had. We don’t know what troubles they’ve had in school. So we need to treat every student differently. We need to make sure we differentiate for them. So having empathy and understanding and getting to know the students is probably one of the most important things in the first instance 

What drives you to continue to develop in your role in FE?  

One of the things that drives me to continue to develop is my own if my own career ambitions, you know, I do have drive and determination and passion to want to strive for it. But the other reason is the students, you know, the better I can be, the better I can teach and the better support I can give students.  

There’s always room for development, and that’s one of the main reasons that inspires me.  

How has membership of SET supported you in transforming your practice / career?  

So the membership of SET has supported me in transforming my career and by being able to document everything I’ve been doing for the past 12 two years, really, we could say year and a half, but two years it’s I’ve been able to reflect continuously and SET has allowed me in that membership and that that portfolio has allowed me to continuously reflect and learn things that I wouldn’t have normally learnt and being part of a community of like-minded people has allowed me to further my own understanding of what education is and really kind pushed my boundaries of thinking.  

How have ETF’s resources / training / programmes enabled you to transform your practice for the benefit of students?  

I’ve recently completed the qualification in advanced teacher status. That qualification is the next stage up from your class. You qualify, teach status. And what that’s allowed me to do is, is move one step beyond what would be the normal remit of a teacher and allowed me to start looking at the reflective side of my practice.  

So what the involved is me really doing a year and a half of professional development through constant reflective thinking about stretching and challenging my own practice. And one of the things that we had to do was where we had to get 360 degree feedback from some students. And at first I was questioning how much I’m going to get from doing that activity. But actually, I couldn’t believe the response I got with learning about how the students thought might it. I found that quite actually more, more impactful than then a colleague coming to me and giving me feedback, which I’m not discrediting, but what I’m saying is that that feedback I saw was so enriching that I think that’s something every teacher should do.  

Find out more

Find out more about our Together we transform initiative, and view other case studies, highlighting the transformative impact that the further education and skills sector has on lives across the UK.