Catriona Gardner is 27 years old and from Allanton, North Lanarkshire in Scotland. She left school at 16 and started working at the restaurant chain Nando’s. Moving quite quickly up the ranks, she worked in several stores across Scotland gaining experience of people management and staff training. Catriona had struggled with aspects of her learning and eventually found out she had dyslexia, which helped her make sense of some of the challenges she had faced in the past. Initially she hadn’t felt clever enough to reach for her goals, but she had a real passion for food and, with the support of people who believed in her, she gained confidence and took every opportunity to challenge herself. Before starting QMU, she completed the HND/HNC in Professional Cookery at New College Lanarkshire and then a BSc (Hons) Food, Nutrition and Health at Abertay University. She also gained some experience in schools as a technician in a Home Economics department and a pupil support assistant.
Why did you decide on a change of career?
It has been my dream since I left school to become a Home Economics teacher, I struggled in education and didn’t get the grades I should have, so I had to do it the long way round. For years I found education difficult and really struggled with low self-esteem and felt I wasn’t capable or smart enough to do anything worthwhile. My Home Economics teacher was a wonderful woman called Mrs. Stevenson who made me feel safe, smart and like I could achieve anything. I had a particular flare for the subject which was encouraged and supported by her and my family. She ignited a fire in my belly which I wanted to pursue. I chose to leave school at 16 without the grades I needed and move on to college to study professional cookery and then onto university, little did I know that it wouldn’t be until I was 24 that I found out I had dyslexia and all of the struggling started to make sense.
What attracted you to the teaching profession?
Home Economics was my safe place and was where I felt most comfortable. I have chosen to be a teacher to make sure that I can help to provide every student with the best experience possible. To help them achieve things that they didn’t think they could, like what my teacher and family have done for me. Sometimes all you need is someone to believe that you are capable of achieving your dream. I would like to let people know that they can do it no matter who they are or what challenges they face.
What is it about home economics that interests you and why do you think it is important for young people and society in general?
The subject is ever changing, as the world changes it changes. I have always believed that Home Economics is core to education. You can teach the whole curriculum through baking a cake; it encompasses all subjects and that is the beauty of it. A good understanding of health and wellbeing is paramount for everyone in society, it aids in the achievement of other things. For society to grow and to have a strong future we must grow together.
What are the things you really love about home economics?
I have a passion for food and always have. There are so many stories to tell from a meal: where the food has come from, the colours, texture and flavours on your plate, how it was cooked, what this food does when it enters your body, and even right down to how you enjoy that meal, there is a story to tell. Home Economics is more than just cooking and sewing (which a lot of people think it is) - it is about challenging perceptions and pushing change. The subject itself covers a wide range of courses including fashion and textiles, practical cookery, practical cake craft, childcare/child development, health and food technology and sustainability all of which provide great opportunities. The teachers who teach the subject are passionate, knowledgeable, and talented individuals. One subject can do so much and that is what I love.
What areas of the course have you enjoyed this last year?
This year, I have particularly enjoyed challenging perceptions within ‘Home Economics in the 21st Century’, where you could explore the political, social and cultural side of the subject with people who have the same strong passions as you do. Alongside this I really enjoyed ‘Education, Theory, and Practice’ where you could explore how people learn and I had the opportunity to research something I had a personal interest in.
What have the challenges been?
This year has definitely kept me on my toes that’s for sure. Juggling the workload, placements and also the pandemic have been a challenge, but now I have achieved it and I have learned some great things along the way.
What was your biggest lesson you learned?
This year I learned that resilience is key, being able to box something up and move on and try again.
How has the course stretched you?
This course has made me realise that I am capable of a lot more than I first thought. Learning to teach is hard enough, never mind during a pandemic. I have learned that I have the ability to quickly learn new skills and adapt to situations, which I did with the switch from in classroom to remote teaching and learning when lockdown hit.
How have you juggled study with other personal commitments?
Routine and structure - you need to plan everything in advance. Be 10 steps ahead at all times, and it is possible. I kept a strict routine for study time and personal time. When I was on placement, I did not take work home with me. I did everything at school so that when I went home it was my time. In school I made great use of my personal learning time, I was on the go all the time. When I was studying at home, I made sure I had a strict lunch hour, I came away from my computer and did something else and after 8pm no technology allowed. And coffee, lots of coffee!
How have you coped with studying during a pandemic?
Studying during a pandemic has been so hard, although it has had its perks. To focus on the positives, I have made friends with a great group of people from my cohort. People I would now call friends for life. We had constant access to each other through Teams which I think helped create a stronger bond. Being unable to travel and do things also meant I spent less time procrastinating and more time focusing on my studying to keep me busy, which I think had a good impact. Another good thing was that our lecturers were only a message or a video call away, and I felt very supported if I had questions or concerns.
What have been the memorable moments of the practical side of the course?
I absolutely loved the practical days on the course. It was my favourite day of the week when we got to work in the university kitchens. We worked a lot on skills in the kitchen, but my favourite lesson was working on our demonstration skills. Cooking and talking is harder than you think, and it was such a valuable lesson.
Have you used any support services at QMU to help you with study and learning?
Yes, I used the disability support service. Since I have Dyslexia and Irlene Syndrome, sometimes I need a little help from time to time and the team was so helpful. The staff were very quick in setting me up with what I needed before I started the course, and they were also just an email away when needed.
What are your hopes for the future?
I never thought I would have achieved my dream of becoming a home economics teacher, and I still can’t quite believe I have. Maybe after I have a few years of teaching under my belt, I might like to be head of department. Further down the line, I’d love to be a university lecturer on a PGDE Home Economics programme. That would enable me to help others achieve their dreams of becoming teachers, and allow me to be surrounded by a wide range of inspiring and talented people.
What top tips would you give other students who are thinking about embarking on home economics career?
If you are thinking of joining the programme my advice would be to put in 110% effort - you will need it. The course will push you in ways you will never have imagined. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and those around you. You will have the opportunity to change perceptions of the subject - take them and run with them. Do the subject, pupils, and yourself proud. Find your passion and fight for it. Above all it is the pupils who really count, and they make it so worthwhile. Teenagers can be hard work, but they are also fun, passionate, caring, charismatic and intelligent people, so when they are giving you cheek in class don’t forget that!
"This course has made me realise that I am capable of a lot more than I first thought. I have learned that I have the ability to quickly learn new skills and adapt to situations."
[Story published in August 2021]