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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    The teacher in me is really proud when my students do well, that’s my success as a teacher.

    Mary Briggs is the Principal Lecturer and Programme Lead for Early Years and Primary ITE at Oxford Brookes University. She joined Oxford Brookes three years ago from the University of Warwick.

  • Academia is a second career for Mary, who first trained and worked as a teacher. Upon qualifying as a teacher, she went to work in residential childcare before she started teaching in a special educational needs school called Weavers Field - with children of all ages with behavioural difficulties.

    Mary then taught in a number of different schools teaching all age ranges: nursery, primary and secondary. Her “first foray into HE”, as she describes it, came when she was teaching at Springfield Middle School in Milton Keynes and she spent a year on secondment at what was then Westminster College (now the School of Education at Oxford Brookes). However, higher education suited Mary. She started doing some lecturing with the Open University, becoming a Lecturer and subsequently Senior Lecturer, and then Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, before moving to Oxford Brookes three years ago.
    Mary fell pregnant for the first time when she was on secondment at Westminster College. She recalls the children that she worked with loving the fact that she was pregnant:

    In fact in one of the schools I went to in Blackbird Leys, the children were weighing and measuring me every time I went in.

    Her son was born almost two months premature which meant that her secondment was cut short and he required a lot of additional care and support. Thankfully, her parents lived close by and were able to help out during this period. She recalls

    He was in and out of hospital; when I was teaching in Milton Keynes I would be sleeping on the hospital floor and my parents would take over from me in the day and then I would take over at the end of the day.

    The family supported each other, and Mary was able to keep working during this period which she felt was extremely important. She laughs that it’s hard to imagine him as a premature baby now that he is a grown up adult! Mary and her husband entered parenthood as a partnership, with her husband being able to take time off work if the children were ill during term time, as Mary had more time to spend with them during the holidays. In many ways, Mary’s career and motherhood have fed into one another. Her passion for child development has meant that she has always been a hands-on mother who made sure that she had lots of time to play with her children.

    I used to make tents in the living room and when we moved house, out of boxes, I made a submarine with a working periscope for my son. We had this in the dining room for so long that we couldn’t use the dining room.

    Mary’s family has also benefitted from her academic career through the opportunities to do lots of travelling. A few years ago, before the Arab Spring, she presented at a conference in Cairo, and they did a trip to the pyramids. They’ve benefitted from my travelling around. That’s given them the opportunity to see different things. Similarly, when she was teaching in Kenya, the whole family came out during the Easter holidays and they went on Safari.

    That was really very memorable. My daughter was quite little but she still remembers the Masai.

    There were more family opportunities to travel when Mary took a sabbatical during her time at Warwick. The family took the chance to go on a round the world trip: Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and back via the United States:

    They still talk about those sorts of trips.

    Mary is always pushing herself, taking on new challenges. She is currently part way through a second master’s degree in mentoring and coaching. Ongoing learning is central to her life philosophy. She likes to remind her students that she is also a student, seeing education as something reciprocal.

    I think I’m still learning and I think that makes me a good teacher. I learn a lot from people.

    It is not surprising then that, for her, success is about helping other people to learn.

    The teacher in me is really proud when my students do well, that’s my success as a teacher. It’s not success for me. It’s about enabling others. I’m very fortunate. I haven’t got a doctorate but I have eight people I have successfully seen through to completion. I see that as a real success.

    A crucial question to ask yourself is what will be your focus, teaching excellence or research? As focusing on both is a considerable challenge.