Ms Wygnanska's #teachereffect at St Mary's
We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.
Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We continue our series with Ms Wygnanska, who teaches Reception at our Junior School.
When did you start at St Mary’s?
I started at St Mary’s in September 2012. I have taught Year 4, Year 5 and Reception during my time here!
What did you do before you joined?
After my A Levels, I did a degree in International Economics at The University of Nottingham. In my final year, as I started to think about a career after university, I realised that teaching would be a great way fit for my skills and interests. I chose to train as a Primary Teacher, rather than Secondary, as it meant that I could teach many different subjects, rather than focusing on just one. After completing my PGCE at Warwick University, I taught Year 4 in Lincolnshire and then spent a year teaching in Edinburgh before deciding to move back to Cambridge, where I grew up. The vacancy at St Mary’s was perfectly timed with my return to Cambridge and I have really enjoyed teaching here for the last 8 years.
Were you always interested in teaching? What fuelled that interest?
I have always wanted to use my skills to help others. Studying Economics helped me understand the impact that actions can have on people’s lives, both in the short term and long term. But an economist models change on a very large scale and then never meets the people who will be affected. I wanted to do something more personal, where I could work directly with those who will then be impacted by my work. I have always enjoyed working with children and actually started my teaching career as a Piano teacher when I was a teenager! After spending some time volunteering in a primary school during my degree, I decided that I would really enjoy working in a school every day and the challenges that that would bring.
What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?
When I was a Year 4 and Year 5 teacher, my highlights each year were the residential trips. It was amazing to watch the girls mature and develop new skills over such a short period of time. It was also fun to spend time with my pupils outside of the normal school environment and, often see a different side to their personalities! For the last two years I have been teaching Reception, which in itself has been a highlight of my time at St Mary’s. I absolutely love coming to school each day not knowing whether I will be hunting for a giant in the woods, making a hotel for ladybirds or helping a child read for the first time today. The girls make exponential progress in that first year of school and it is a privilege to be part of that.
Why do you enjoy teaching?
I have always had many interests and my favourite thing about teaching is that I get to indulge in them all! My academic background is in Maths and Economics, and I have been able to continue with this interest through some research work and a Masters in Mathematics Education at Cambridge University. However, I also play several instruments, play an active role in my Catholic church, and have an interest in gardening and the outdoors, all of which I have been able to share with my pupils at St Mary’s. Only a primary school teacher can spend their morning investigating Maths problems and then spend their afternoon making a campfire in the woods, and I love that through these activities I can inspire our girls to try so many different things.
In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching in an all-girls environment?
I think that an all-girls environment helps break down gender stereotypes. Particularly in our ‘free-flow’ Reception classroom, there is no division of ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’, which I hear about when I speak to Reception teachers from co-educational schools. The woodwork table, building bricks, doctor costumes and bikes outside are all there for our girls and they have the freedom to choose exactly what equipment they would like to explore that day. This in turn helps to inspire them to be ambitious and strive for whatever future they might choose.
What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?
My favourite thing to do when I am not at school is travelling around the world. I love the experience of spending time immersed in other cultures, meeting new people, and seeing the amazing local wildlife. I have had the opportunity to combine this with my skills as a teacher by volunteering for an organisation called Limited Resource Teacher Training. In the last few years, I have spent two of my summer holidays leading a training and mentoring scheme for teachers in Tanzania and even took Tom the Bear with me last year! Spending time in classrooms with very limited equipment and furniture really helps to remind me what is at the heart of teaching and learning, and that sometimes the simple strategies can make a big impact on the children we are teaching.
What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life?
Always be open to new ideas and experiences as you never know what impact they might have on your life. Travel as much as you can and use this an opportunity to have a go at things out of your comfort zone, otherwise you will never truly know your full potential.