The last weeks of my course at UCL have been all about ‘history beyond the classroom’. For teachers, it is important that we don’t confine what we do to school itself – we must continue to engage with our subject and education beyond the school gates and beyond our timetable, and for many this is one of the great perks of the job. Unsurprisingly, London has much to offer for anyone who is interested in or passionate about the past.

One focus of our final weeks was local history. Working in groups, we were tasked to explore nearby Tavistock Square and find angles and aspects about it that could be used to introduce a specific theme in a lesson, or even to base a whole group of lessons around. For example, the square is home to one of the earliest and most prominent statues of Mahatma Gandhi, who studied law at UCL, and it was privately owned by large landowners before being turned into a public space during World War II. 

Additionally, we received training by a member of the British Museum’s education team in museum education, and all completed a museum placement. I was lucky to spend my placement at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, which is fascinating for many reasons. First of all, the actual buildings used to be part of the original Victoria and Albert Museum, and was disassembled and relocated to Bethnal Green to make room for a larger museum. Additionally, the museum hosts several thousand objects related to the idea of childhood and offers insight into how the boundaries between adulthood and infancy have changed over the centuries. It was slightly disconcerting, though, to see that some things that I played with as a child are apparently already old enough to be in a museum! The education officers at the museum were incredibly welcoming and explained different aspects of their work to us, and we discussed different ways in which teachers and schools can utilised museum for learning rather than just as a ‘day out’.

Thirdly, we were asked to choose any historical sight in London and design a local historical study around it. All pupils in England taking history to the age of 16 have to complete such a study, which made this exercise incredibly useful as well as exciting. A fried of mine and I chose to visit the Troubadour coffee house in Earl’s Court, West London. The Troubadour was opened as a meeting place for public debate and popular dissent in the 1950s, and became one of the hubs of the folk music revival of the 1960s. For example, Bob Dylan played his first ever gig in Britain here, and it is assumed that the first meeting of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were held here. The manager of the Troubadour was incredibly kind and offered several hours of his time to talk us though the history of the venue and answer our questions. 

In our last week, we attended a training course with the Centre for Holocaust Education. The centre is part of UCL and has been researching how the Holocaust is taught across Britain, how much pupils know about it, and what pitfalls and common misconceptions often arise. Additionally, they produce resources and lesson plans for teachers which they shared with us on the day. Even though I thought I had a reasonably good grasp on the history of the Holocaust, the day at UCL completely changed my view about how we can and should teach it to young people, and has invigorated me in pursuing this with my future students.

Leaving the UCL Institute of Education for the last time was quite emotional for all of us. It seems like the academic year has completely flown by, even though I have learned so much over the last ten months. I have met incredibly kind, interesting, intelligent, wise, and funny people and made more friends than I could have hoped for. In many ways, without trying to sound too sentimental, I feel like a very different person from who I was when I first arrived at UCL. I would not want to miss my time here for the world; in fact I wish I could do it all over again!

JUNE 2018