Ms Norman's #teachereffect at St Mary's

Ms Norman'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 Janine Norman, who teaches geography at our Senior School and Sixth Form. 

When did you start at St Mary’s?

This is a slightly tricky one - I did some of my PGCE placement back in 2004 at St Mary's, where the legendary Miss Spore was my PGCE mentor, then I went travelling, then I did a short maternity cover for Mrs Leighton-Scott after I came back from travelling. I then spent a year in a state school and then, in 2007, I came back. I was initially full time, then became part-time after my children were born, which was great because then Mrs Hutchison arrived!

What did you do before you joined?

I grew up in a town called Bangor in Northern Ireland, where I attended a girls' state grammar school which was a bit like St Mary's in lots of ways! I came to Cambridge in 2000 to read Geography at St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

Were you always interested in geography? What fuelled that interest?

I have always loved Geography, but I would say it wasn't always my favourite subject at school - I used to prefer History and English, also subjects I studied at A Level. However, in the Sixth Form the sheer breadth of Geography and the relevance of it to every aspect of our lives and our planet really struck me, which is why I chose it as a degree subject rather than the others. However, anyone who does A Level will know I am at heart more of a human geographer, which does have links with History and English!

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

I love coming into work every day, as the staff and the students are so great to be around! The Geography department have worked together for a long time and we are like a family. I also love being involved with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. One of the hardest things about lockdown has been not getting to get out on all the expeditions that the girls and staff have been working so hard to plan - especially as the weather would have been perfect this year! I also really enjoy working with the Sixth Form Geography projects. I am always in awe of the level of work many of the girls produce, especially if you have had the privilege of seeing them move up through the school and transform into outstanding geographers. It is also really special as a christian to get to work at a faith school where there is time to reflect every day, and that ethos underpins so much of what we do.

Why do you enjoy teaching?

The long holidays - only joking! I enjoy getting to spend lots of time thinking about and hearing about Geography. I really enjoy it when there are opportunities to have fun with the subject, like when we explode volcanoes in the school garden, or get to make play dough models of coastal processes and features. I also love seeing progression over time, whether it is a DofE group who were lost in a field in Essex on a Bronze practice with their map back to front and upside down triumphantly navigating their way through their Silver qualifying expedition, or the way some students may go from struggling to write a few paragraphs to writing outstanding, thoughtful authoritative essays, especially in the Sixth Form as students become increasingly independent learners and their writing really takes off.

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

When I worked in mixed schools the boys were dominant in the class room, for whatever reason. I remember being horrified on a field trip at a mixed school as a young teacher when the girls were all set to stand around watching while the boys dug up the sand and did all the practical work! At St Mary's everyone just gets stuck in! 

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

I don't have much of that at the minute, as I have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, but I like to read, and as a family we like to walk.

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

Read lots of books.....