After my friend told me about his experience in Philadelphia and the undeniable generous support of the Thouron award, I was compelled to investigate further. At the time of applying, Penn's Graduate School of Education was the second most prestigious education school in the USA (it is now joint first with Harvard GSE) and being able to access the wealth of knowledge of this faculty and university was a huge attraction to my career in education. Ironically, although I had wanted to pursue a masters at some point in the future, I had never dreamed of being able to achieve this in another country, fully funded, let alone in the USA, a country I had not visited prior to applying.
My acceptance onto the Thouron fellowship after almost five years of teaching English in a secondary school in London couldn't have come at a better time. I was desperate to study educational scholarship so I could get a better grasp on the theory and current research to improve my classroom teaching and my leadership skills. I remember reading about the Teaching, Learning and Leadership M.S.Ed course and feeling so inspired and excited because I knew they would provide me with the toolkit I needed to make an impact in education.
Although the Thouron application process is by no means an easy feat and having stepped out of thinking about my own career for some time, the experience of the interview day has stayed with me during this year. The interview panel evidently recognised my determination for educational change and, moreover, I realised how the Thouron network of scholars would hopefully open doors for the students I taught in the future.
I have relished the opportunity to learn again as a student. It's helped me empathise with my students, who struggle with school pressures, and it has also allowed me to step outside the bubble of education in England and draw significant parallels to the American educational system. Pertinent debates of knowledge vs skilled based pedagogy, how teacher education should be conducted and what social justice teaching looks like in classrooms and schools are just as relevant in the UK as they are in the USA. Despite the restrictions of online classes, I have met some inspiring educators, organised events in a Teacher Education Collaboratory Network and volunteered in various educational groups such as CSSP, which sends Penn students to be teaching assistants in Philadelphian schools and AFAHO Youth Group, which provides tutors for African and Caribbean students. Connecting with the Philly community was such a valuable experience for me. I missed teaching a lot this year but speaking to students in the USA has made me think about transnational exchanges I could forge in the future to enable youth in the UK and USA to connect.
I will be returning to the UK after some travelling in the USA to pursue my career in teaching. My plan is to apply for positions in which I am based in teacher education to emphasise the international network they are part of as educators and apply the social context that surrounds their classroom and impacts their students. Moreover, the Thouron award and Penn GSE has instilled a newfound confidence to connect educational theory to the reality of being a teacher and I will be applying for a PhD in Education over the coming year. I am deeply grateful that the Thouron Award has provided me an opportunity to access higher education in a way I never imagined – and I hope for those applying, you succeed in igniting your educational aspirations too.
Fay Lockett was a Thouron scholar during the 2020/21 academic year.