Three years ago, as first year medical students, we never imagined ourselves teaching in a secondary school for our Medical Humanities block. It was far beyond our comfort zones. We even made the decision tentatively: would we have enough confidence? However, having recently returned from Buckie High School, we cannot recommend the Health Studies in Education course enough.
The course lasts for six weeks, with the main feature being a two week placement in a secondary school. We stayed in accommodation very close to the school in Buckie. The first two weeks of the course were lecture-based and equipped us with the knowledge of learning theories and styles required to plan and deliver lessons. We were a little apprehensive about receiving our timetable, but we were given a very fair spread of lessons, ranging from biology to ethics. As we were in a pair, we used each other’s strengths for planning and delivering our lessons, so if one of us didn’t feel comfortable teaching a topic, the other took the lead. We were also given a choice of topics for many of our lessons. The school were keen for us to put a medical spin on our lessons to enhance pupils’ existing knowledge.
Our first lesson in the school was in the Assembly Hall at 8.45am, so we hit the ground running! In hindsight, this helped us to gain confidence quickly, and we were surprised by how settled we felt in our new role after only a couple of lessons. On average, we were teaching four out of seven periods per day, sometimes five, so we were glad to sit down in the staffroom during our breaks! We came across a quote written on the board on our first day: “strive for progress, not perfection”, which was encouraging for us.
One of our most enjoyable lessons to teach was infectious diseases to third year biology classes. We wanted to make it engaging for pupils, so we delivered the lesson to pupils as if they were in a ward in which there was an outbreak of influenza. We used various teaching methods to appeal to different learning styles, which we had learned about in the first two weeks. We used gloves and paint, for example, to demonstrate the transmission of infection. This activity was far less messy than anticipated because pupils engaged well, which was a relief for both us and the teacher!
One of the most challenging aspects was how flexible we had to be with our lesson structure; each class responded differently to the lesson content due to mixed abilities and different learning styles. We were constantly thinking of simpler ways to explain concepts and reminding ourselves to slow down! As a result, we feel that our communication skills have been greatly enhanced, which will be transferrable to our medical studies.
In addition to delivering lessons, we also enjoyed discussing university options with pupils. Buckie High School is a Reach School, so it has a lower rate of students progressing to higher education. Prior to going on the placement, we were given lectures about the university’s Widening Access Programmes, including Gateway2Medicine, so we were prepared to share this information with staff and pupils. We spent time discussing progression to university with the guidance staff. It was interesting to hear that the general motivation for university is low, because many pupils aspire to follow their parents’ career pathways, which do not necessarily involve further and higher education. Furthermore, university life, in particular the city lifestyle, differs greatly from that with which pupils are familiar in a rural community. With this in mind, we encouraged pupils to speak to us, not just about healthcare professions, but about student life in general.
During our time at the school, we sought to gain further insight into the running of the different departments, so spent some time with staff and pupils in the Support for Learning department. We learned about its role in providing additional support to pupils, whether this be academic or social in nature. Staff informed us of the ‘open-door’ policy, which applies to students across all year groups. When speaking to students, it was evident that the services offered by Support for Learning staff were highly valued, and a high number of pupils use the services on a daily basis. Furthermore, we gained an understanding of the significance of the department in providing support for pupils with anxiety, which can be triggered by going to school. The Support for Learning department aims to create a safe learning environment for these pupils, where they can access teaching resources until they are ready to integrate back into the classroom.
In addition to learning about the school departments, we had the opportunity to experience life as a local in Buckie, by attending clubs which run in the area. Laura attended a film night at the school, where the film ‘A Star is Born’ was shown. The film nights, which take place once per month, can be attended by people of all ages and are a great way of providing a cinema-like experience, especially with the nearest cinema being in Elgin. Similarly, Emma attended a running group in Buckie. We were able to see the social value of both groups we attended, appreciating the challenge of establishing leisure clubs in rural communities where facilities are not always available.
In our leisure time, we explored the surrounding coastal villages, visiting Findochty, Portknockie, Cullen, Portsoy, Banff and Macduff. In walking along the coast and visiting these places, we were able to appreciate the natural beauty of the area and gain an insight into the fishing communities which once thrived there. We then drove west along the coast to the beach at Spey Bay, the largest shingle beach in Scotland, and spent some time at the sandy beaches in Lossiemouth.
Overall, the placement gave us the opportunity to develop our communication skills further, by interacting with school pupils and pitching lessons at an appropriate level for pupils. Not only did we develop skills which will be vital for our future career, but we also had the opportunity to learn more about the lifestyle in rural communities and fully appreciate the scenic nature of such places.
Emma Mair and Laura Smith