A learning support assistant at Smestow School has been inspired to become a teacher after working alongside students while studying herself.

Dr Jessica Gray spent four and a half years studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds, and for the past year and a half she has done this while working at Smestow.

“It has been great to work with students while doing my research, the two disciplines are very different in terms of the challenges they present,” she said.

“The reward of interacting and supporting young people is often instantaneous, whereas the degree is a long undertaking.  The process of writing a thesis can be quite isolating, but getting to know the students at Smestow, and the fun and banter that brings, has been a nice change of pace.  It’s not easy to go from supporting at Key Stage three and four, to then come home and get into the mindset of my thesis, but helping students achieve certainly put my own research and studies into perspective.”

Dr Gray’s work at Smestow School involves supporting students in their English lessons.  Her PhD addressed Marks & Spencer and the way in which the company responded to growing environmental concern in the seventies and eighties.

She said: “It certainly takes it out of you. You learn a lot about yourself.  You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, beyond what you would usually think possible.  I have some experience of teaching at university but since being at Smestow I have thought seriously about teaching at secondary level, maybe teaching English or History.  There is some great work going on and great people to work with, it is a rewarding role.”

Dr Gray also has a degree in History from Lancaster University and a Masters in History from Exeter University.  Headteacher Martyn Morgan said he was very proud of everything she has achieved.  He said: “Jessica is a valued member of staff here at Smestow and is committed to her role as a learning support assistant.  Many people – staff and pupils – would have had no idea she was also working very hard outside of her role here.  We are delighted to hear that she now considers teaching as a rewarding future career and hope her experience at Smestow has so far been a helpful one.”