Miss Victoria Handley's #teachereffect at St Mary's

Miss Victoria Handley'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 Miss Victoria Handley, who is a Biology teacher at our Senior School and Deputy Head of our Sixth Form. On the right she is pictured on a glacial hike during the Sixth Form trip to Iceland in October 2018.

When did you start at St Mary’s?

September 2014 - I can't believe this is my 6th year here, it's gone so fast!

What did you do before you joined? (i.e. how long have you been in teaching/short bio etc)

Previously I was taught for 5 years at a boys' grammar school in Rugby - I joined that school as a newly qualified teacher after university before moving to Cambridge and joining St Mary's.

Prior to that I was at Loughborough university doing a PGCE and also at Loughborough university doing a BSc in Human Biology. 

Prior to that I was at school myself...

Were you always interested in the sciences/biology? What fuelled that interest and why that subject and area?

I really enjoyed studying science subjects at school - and I really liked my own science teachers. I liked doing practical activities at school and I particularly enjoyed the real life application to what I was learning, or how something could be useful in the world (particularly in a medical context). It felt like learning had a purpose.

Picking Biology, Chemistry, Maths and English Literature in the Sixth Form was a natural choice in continuing to study what I loved - and allowed me to keep any future options open.

In Year 13 I applied to do a Biochemistry degree (at Liverpool University) where I studied for 1.5 years. Among other reasons, I decided I was too much of a people person to be working in a laboratory as a biochemist and transferred to study human biology at Loughborough university. Being at a campus university was so much nicer and more friendly. Doing modules at Loughborough University on ageing and alternative medicine I found particularly interesting.

What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?

  • Working with some really lovely students, particularly when girls are so keen to learn and do well; and then being a small part of that success when they do do well.
  • Working with some fabulous staff, some of whom are now my best friends
  • Taking students on trips, like Iceland, DofE and ski trips. Seeing students outside of the classroom and in a different context always makes teaching fun.
  • Other staff at school have encouraged me to take on different roles within school so I've been able to be involved in lots of different aspects of school life e.g. deputy head of sixth form, DofE assistant as well as teaching Biology.
  • I've always loved being a form tutor as a teacher (I'm currently a sixth form tutor) and having an opportunity to see the same girls every day and knowing how they're progressing in school and in their lives outside of school gives teaching a sense of purpose.

Why do you enjoy teaching?

Because every day is different! You often don't end up doing quite what you expect. I get to work with lots of different people, which is fun and interesting.

Once you've been in a school for a couple of years you really get to know pupils you're teaching and seeing them develop, learn and succeed is really quite rewarding.

In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching biology in an all-girls environment?

Teaching certain topics in Biology e.g. reproduction and hormonal changes is definitely easier in a single sex environment; when discussing what happens in the body and changes that take place during puberty it's definitely easier having a discussion as a woman with other girls.

However, having come from an all-boys environment at my previous school, teaching is teaching - and what makes my job enjoyable is the pupils in front of me - it doesn't really matter whether they're boys or girls, just if they're keen to learn.

What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?

Travelling! I love to go on holiday as often as I can and I totally love exploring new places and experiencing new cultures.

Last summer I visited the Galapagos Islands, which was such an incredible experience as a Biologist, seeing so many animals in the wild e.g. sea lions, turtles, marine iguanas and albatrosses. And now teaching about evolution in my GCSE and A Level classes makes my lessons feel more engaging and real, particularly if I show as class a photo of something that I've seen to demonstrate something in their exam.

I also like a challenge, and I've climbed a few mountains, my favourite was Mount Elgon in Uganda, 4,321m asl (above sea level) - seeing such a change in terrain as we hiked up and the reward of finally making it to the peak was unforgettable.  

Seeing family and friends is also a big priority in life.

What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life?

Keep positive - always! Sometimes things don't work out the way we'd planned them - and that's just part of life. It's always about thinking about how you can move forwards - and take something positive out of everything you have managed to achieve. 

And believe in yourself - if you really want to achieve something, hard work can get you a really long way.