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Digging the Dancing Queen

‘So what is your plan for next year?’ It’s quite obviously the question on everyone's lips in the last year of sixth form. My plan was always to have a gap year, but I think like most people, I was honestly spoiled for choice over what I would do for the year- caught between the temptation of laying on a beach for a year… getting some work experience… finding an internship? When I was told that Catherine would be coming into sixth form to give a talk about a gap year provider, I was advised by my head of year to go along to the talk, with absolutely no idea about what or who I was about to meet. After meeting Catherine and learning about what the company did, I came away unexpectedly surprised, and six months down the line, an interview, some emails and a few phone calls later, I was sat in a room with around forty others on the training day, with a plan for my gap year, and a whole new community that I’d be getting to know over the year.

My placement at The Macclesfield Academy is perhaps slightly different to the regular role of a tutor; rather than being, for example, the Maths and Science department, I am with pretty much every department that the school has. My role is being a teaching assistant to students with SEN; I work with a few children with autism, learning or behavioural difficulties. They might need help staying on task, or need things explaining slower so that they can keep up with their classmates and not feel overwhelmed. I can’t say that the role was one I was expecting to take, but I was very pleasantly surprised, as I’ve had invaluable work experience in an area I thought I’d feel uncomfortable in; but now an area that I would like to explore in the future when I study psychology. In writing my personal statement, I talked about working with, and helping these children with strategies, and I honestly feel that this gave me the edge for university applications and was the reason I was able to get all five offers. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch the students I work with develop over the year, and I’ve had the most lovely feedback both from the students and the teachers in the school. Teachers tell me that they’re still surprised that I’m only eighteen, so I think the role definitely forces you to mature, which is exactly what I needed from my gap year to make the jump to uni smoother.

I work with another two tutors at the academy, and we’ve been given the responsibility by the school this year to run a ‘homework club’. This runs 4 days a week, from 3pm to 4:30pm, and takes place in the library, where students can come and do homework, and are able to instantly ask for our help when they need it. Whilst this does make days longer, it has been a great experience, especially when we are inundated with people coming to the homework club ‘because the tutors are there’.

Dance, and more specifically, ballet was my absolute favourite hobby through school, and after running a successful club for my school when I was in sixth form, I’d realised just how much I love teaching dance and wanted to pursue it. I applied for the ballet teaching qualification with the Royal Academy of Dance last summer, with the intention of getting the bulk of the course out of the way in my gap year; using my one day off a week to study, and finishing the rest alongside uni. Since September, I have been working at the academy during the day, then going straight to the dance studios at night to help, observe and sometimes teach to get experience. This does mean working 11 or 12 hour days but I’ve needed to be busy because everyone around me had gone to uni. When the Academy found out about my teacher training, they were keen to get me to do some dance with the children during Enrichment: when all students have extra-curricular lessons on a Thursday afternoon. After Christmas, I started teaching a group of twelve year sevens and eights, and I’m now about to start my third term with another group. This has been one of my favourite parts of the year, as I’ve got to know my students well, as well as teaching them something I am passionate about. I’ve seen a greater improvement in them than I had expected, especially since most of them don’t dance outside of school, which is massively rewarding.

In the second half of enrichment, I have been choreographing and helping out with the school play, which this year is Grease. This term it has involved teaching 60 students the routines that were choreographed with a smaller group last term, which is hard work, but great to see the play coming together; I’m excited to see the finished product in July!

Aside from working at the academy and my studies, I have also been able to work on my own dance, and managed to successfully take and pass my Advanced ballet exam; which has been a huge achievement for me.

Whilst there have been many highs and lows to this year, I have gained huge amounts of experience, not just in how I can help young people, but in resilience, patience and perseverance; all skills that will be invaluable to me in the future.