After Heriot’s Blog

Next up on the blog is Elizabeth, a Music Teacher based in Edinburgh. Elizabeth shares her advice for current pupils and the importance of always being kind to others.

Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.

Elizabeth Wells, Class of 2014

What is your current role?

I am a Music Teacher at Liberton High School teaching classroom music to pupils in S1-S6. I work closely with my colleague with whom I run a number of different music clubs for pupils to get involved in; we’re currently in the process of getting a school musical up and running. I also help run the school eco group.

What was your journey to get there?

As part of the work experience programme in S4/S5 I did a week’s placement at a local primary school. Following on from this, I realised that I didn’t want to become a primary school teacher, but I did want to become a teacher. Music had always been one of my main interests at school and the teachers always made classes and the extra-curricular groups fun and interesting. I decided that this is what I would like to do too: make music fun and interesting for others. When it came to university choices, I decided to study music and knew from the start that the end goal would be teaching.

Edinburgh University was always my top choice thanks to its more traditional approach where it encouraged students to try a broad range of music fields, before allowing them to specialise more in 3rd & 4th year. This was an important experience for me as I went to university not wanting to study performance at all. Four years later, however, I concluded my undergraduate degree with a public flute recital. I don’t think I would have done this had I not been obliged to take performance in 1st and 2nd year. Along with performance, I chose courses that I knew would help me as a music teacher, like keyboard skills, orchestration, composition, and different education themed courses like Music in the Community and an introduction to the Kodaly approach to music education.

In addition to academic work, my journey into teaching was supported by the clubs/societies I immersed myself in during my degree and my paid work. I gained valuable skills through my work as Publicity Manager and later President for the Edinburgh University Music Society and through the bi-weekly music sessions I delivered in a local nursery.

I graduated with my music degree in July 2018 and started my Professional Graduate Diploma in Education again at Edinburgh University that September. Fast forward through a crazy, exhausting yet exhilarating year of three different placement schools and a mountain of reading/writing about pedagogy, I graduated again with my PGDE in Secondary Music in 2019.

I was then assigned to Liberton High School to complete my probation year and secured a permanent post in February 2020. My probation year was extremely challenging as the music department consisted of myself and another probationer who I only met three days before the pupils returned to school. Through necessity, we created our own curriculum and all our resources as we went. To round off the smooth start to my teaching career, lockdown happened and teaching, along with everything else, changed. Now three years into teaching, somehow I’m still standing, smiling and enjoying the varied challenges everyday throws at me. My current colleague was a probationer last year but secured a permanent job in June 2021. As fairly fresh-faced teachers, we have lots of plans of how we want to develop our little department and continue to strive for the original aim to make music fun and interesting.

What are your achievements?

Professionally, I am proud of the work I put in to make it through my probation year, but also of the work I have done since then to keep developing the music department and bring opportunities to my pupils to discover and engage with music. Having five of my first ever Higher class go on to apply to study music at university was pretty exciting.

Personally, I am proud of the work I did and the friends I made in the Edinburgh University Music Society. I got to play some incredible pieces in beautiful venues, learn from top-quality conductors, make lasting friendships, and play a small part in ensuring others can enjoy these experiences in years to come. As president during their 150th anniversary year, and thanks to foresight of committees past, welcoming a packed Usher Hall to our anniversary concert was very special.

Tell us two abiding memories of Heriot’s?

All the extra-curricular opportunities that were available to us. Concerts naturally stand out for me but so do all the sports events, trips and shows we were encouraged to get involved with. There was something for everyone, and if there wasn’t, then there was the encouragement to create that opportunity.

The sense of community, belonging and friendship. I was at Heriot’s for 14 years so this is maybe not surprising, but my closest friends are school friends and we still refer back to memories and experiences from school that continue to draw us together.

And two ‘takeaways’ from Heriot’s days?

Mr Brownlee’s advice to “never lose perspective”. I stick to this and it helps me to always remember to try and put myself in someone else’s shoes.

The school motto is a definite favourite. This, tied in with the above and beyond attitude of the teachers, has meant that I strive to do things with positivity & good grace and to be generous with my time. On more than one occasion, I have asked my own pupils to “distribute cheerfullie” as they hand our class folders or materials.

Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?

Try and follow the unofficial school motto of “Work Hard and Be Kind”.

If you are keen to do something, work hard at it. Don’t let others or expectations push you in a direction you don’t want to go. If you care enough about something and work hard, you can make things happen in your own way. There is no one path or one way of getting to a goal.

Always be kind, not just to others but to yourself as well. Be kind to others for lots of reasons but from a future perspective, you never know who you might meet or come across down the line and what role they might play. Be kind to yourself and make sure you are making choices that are right for you. Don’t compare yourself to others or let self-doubt get in the way. If something doesn’t go your way, time is not wasted. You will have learned from the experience and can try again with a fresh perspective.