Whether it was an astronaut, veterinarian, footballer or firefighter, we all remember what we wanted to ‘be’ when we grew up and likely what or who inspired those ideas. If you’d asked an eight-year-old Chris Toon, he’d have told you he was going to be a maths teacher and that’s exactly how Chris began his career in education. Now Deputy Principal at Gateshead College, Chris talks about the important role teachers have in positively influencing the young people they work with.
“I had some really amazing teachers growing up, but it was one man in particular who inspired me to follow in his footsteps; his name was Mr Jocelyn, he was my maths teacher and, put simply, he was just an incredible human being. He was kind, he took great care in his teaching and would share some amazing little anecdotes, it really made his lessons the highlight of my week because he let us get to know him as a person as well as our teacher. I can still recall now how I felt in those lessons and it’s because of him that I’m where I am today.
“I’ve always tried to instill what Mr Jocelyn and other great teachers instilled in me, that it’s not just a job. When you teach you need to know your subject, but it’s so much more than that; you’ve got the chance to totally change someone’s life journey.
“It’s this shared purpose, a collective responsibility for the people we teach at Gateshead College which, I think, is what really stands us apart. It’s recognising that while we're here to educate, to make sure people do really well and ideally exceed whatever their expectations are, we know that young people need support outside of the classroom too. We can all play a role in positively impacting peoples’ lives.
“There’s lots of ways we check in with our people. Everyone, from our teachers to our reception staff, our catering team, caretakers and cleaners look out for our learners and they’ll make sure we know if anyone needs a little help.
“I make a point of greeting our new learners every year, I’ll stand at reception every morning and I’ll get to know some by name and what I really want is for them to know who I am and feel able to approach me if they ever need anything. When I walk around our campuses, I’ll always ask our students how they are and 99 percent of the time I’ll get positive responses, but for that one percent, it’s crucial we keep asking.
“Right now, our young people are living through a cost of living crisis, they’re still recovering from the impact of Covid-19 and statistics tell us that in the UK as many as one in four young people have a mental health difficulty.
“We’ve put lots of services in place to ensure that every single one of our students can get the support they need when they need it. This includes investing in a mental health and wellbeing team who are based across all of our campuses to provide counselling and additional support for anyone who needs it.
“There’s the Gateshead College Foundation, a charitable fund unique to the college, which any learner can apply to for help with the costs of coming to college, a job interview or work placement, anything that will help give them the employment edge. We run this alongside our targeted bursary funds for anyone facing financial difficulties.
“For our learners, knowing that we’re here for them and we look out for them every day is crucial.
Not all colleges and schools have this amazing culture and I’m so proud to be part of the team at Gateshead College. I might do things a little bit differently to other deputy principals at other colleges, but I’ll blame Mr Jocelyn for that. Have I come into college in my stormtrooper costume? Sure. Did I try my hand at netball last week? Yes and, fortunately for our Netball Academy players, that’s the one and only time I’ll be doing that! But it’s these little things that I’d like to hope make me more approachable and that help me to get to know our students so that we can make sure they have the best learning experience. “Wed Dec 06 2023