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Gemma Myles - BA (Hons) Graphic Arts & Design, 2007

Gemma studied Graphic Arts & Design at Leeds Beckett University, graduating in 2007. After working as a children’s photographer, and holding a number of teaching roles, she recently took on the role of Art Teacher at Harrow International School, moving almost 6,000 miles to Hong Kong.

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Artist's paintbrush with orange paint

Once she’d decided on studying at Leeds Beckett Gemma seriously contemplated not even applying for any alternatives, saying “I actually couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to go to study! The facilities on offer for the Graphic Design and Visual Arts course were fantastic. Because Leeds Beckett had previously been Leeds Polytechnic until 1992, the University had fantastic workshop facilities as well as more traditional resources such as letterpress which I might not have had access to at another university. For me, the diversity of study options was the deciding factor. As someone who had not fully figured out their place in the world of art and design yet - the diversity of the course at Leeds Beckett was perfect for me. The city of Leeds itself was another big draw for me as well.”

Whilst studying Gemma had the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of disciplines that she had touched upon during the Art Foundation course she’d studied prior to enrolling. She says “The first year was all that I could have wanted from the course: vibrant, diverse, inspiring and, most of all, exciting. I was also fortunate to have some truly inspirational tutors and mentors and I feel privileged to be able to say that one of my tutors in particular, the late Clive Egginton, had a huge impact on my life during my time at University. Clive and the team were the cornerstone of a support network that I returned to time and time again throughout my three years here, and were always on hand to advise, nurture and guide me when I was getting a bit lost in my own ideas.”

Although, through the nurturing and support of her tutors, Gemma had developed a sense of her own style and could see herself as a commercially viable illustrator, she was unsure if she wanted to pursue that as a full time career. Gemma says “Instead I ended up working as a Children’s photographer, making three-minute videos using Chroma key (green screen). Aside from the obvious luxury of a company van that this role came with, by far the most exciting aspect of the role was working with really quiet, shy children and helping them to develop the confidence to shine on screen. Although essentially for this whole year I was little more than a glorified clown, the rewards of working with young people were incredible and I really wanted to harness this energy in a more permanent career.” For Gemma this was the start of a three-year mission to enter teacher training. She began by volunteering in schools, which led to a permanent role as a Teaching Assistant in Boston Spa School, outside Wetherby. After a year working there and being told by prospective teacher training courses that she didn’t have sufficient school experience, she changed roles and worked as a cover supervisor in the same school. This role, along with experience supporting Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and volunteering in a range of different settings working with young people, opened the door to teacher training with Durham SCITT.

Gemma explains “Teacher training was a huge undertaking. It is by far the toughest experience of my career to date: long days, big deadlines and getting used to a whole new way of working was tough. By this stage I had come too far and worked too hard to let anything get in the way of achieving my goal of becoming a teacher, so I knuckled down and got on with it. Those were the most intense nine months of my entire life, but the determination to pursue it all paid off in the end! I completed my NQT year at De Warenne Academy in Doncaster and from there went on to work at Arnold Hill Academy in Nottingham for 4 years.

“In my final year with Arnold Hill Academy I took on the role of Head of Year which was an exciting and fast paced role. This was hugely rewarding during the time that I was fortunate to have the role. By this time though, my husband (who also studied at Leeds Beckett) and I were ready for a new challenge and decided to make the move to live and work abroad and pursue something different.”

Gemma is now working as a Teacher of Art at Harrow International School, in the New Territories of Hong Kong, a five-day a week boarding school, which Gemma says “crams the same amount of activity and contact time as a seven-day school might”. The average day at Harrow HK is busy from the word go - students are into their first lesson at 8.15 and the final lesson of the day finishes at 4.30! It’s a full on experience but the school day is rich and varied. Speaking about the move Gemma says “I wasn’t sure where we wanted to go to, but we were determined to give ourselves and our little girl (now two and a half) an excitingly different cultural experience so I applied for a whole array of school across Asia, from Malaysia to China, Borneo to Hong Kong. The wealth of opportunities available for Art teachers was huge and after applying for various roles I was fortunate to be offered a position at Harrow International School in Hong Kong. I feel fortunate to have had a rich and varied career so far and I am certain that wherever I end up will be equally challenging and exciting, Harrow HK is just the first step forward in the adventure, it’s a full on experience but the school day is rich and varied.”

“I can start the morning playing shark infested custard with year 6 as part of our facing challenges programme, followed by printmaking with Year 8, Pop Art with year 9, tutorials with my Sixth form students and round the teaching day off with a Senior school extra curricula session (ECA) building Grayson Perry inspired clay pots! Teaching and academic enrichment aside, I also have a boarding house duty once a week where I work with the girls in my prep school house taking part in activities or supervising their prep sessions. The students are enthusiastic and eager to try new things which essentially makes my teaching role really straight forward, but it provides amazing opportunities to really push my teaching skills to their limit without having to worry about classroom management. I get to try new ideas and techniques and push the boundaries of my comfort zone be it with materials, content or style of a lesson.”

Reflecting on her time at Leeds Beckett, Gemma doesn’t regret the choice she made over a decade ago saying “I use my skills and knowledge developed at Leeds Beckett all day every day - sometimes in my personal projects outside of work, but I also draw on those skills in every lesson I teach. I have retained the joy of learning new things and developing my understanding of new techniques and ideas and thrive on knowing that if I find a gap in my knowledge I can find a way to fill it either through collaborating with others or find a professional development course which can help me to develop my skills. We were recently visited by an Artist called Leanne Claxton who showed the students how to create textiles designs using sublimation printing and I took full advantage of having a specialist available to guide me through it. The other thing which has really stuck with me is the inspiration that I gained from tutors like Clive, their legacy has really stayed with me - I hope that one day a student looks back on their time at school and can remember me for the support and encouragement I gave them. Without individuals like Clive I might never have been inspired to pursue teaching in the first place. I wish someone had spoken to me sooner about being true to yourself, my first year tutors nurtured and encouraged but I didn’t quite have the confidence to follow it through, if I had done this I think my career as it stands now would have started much sooner. So to all those on the cusp of post education freedom or out in the post university world I would say to you - sit yourself down, figure out what it is you really want from life and start pursuing it - relentlessly, energetically and with an unrelenting enthusiasm! Nothing worth having in life ever comes easily so decide what you want, grab life by the horns and go for it, anything is possible!”

 “I use my skills and knowledge developed at Leeds Beckett all day every day - sometimes in my personal projects outside of work, but I also draw on those skills in every lesson I teach. I have retained the joy of learning new things and developing my understanding of new techniques and ideas and thrive on knowing that if I find a gap in my knowledge I can find a way to fill it either through collaborating with others or find a professional development course which can help me to develop my skills... Nothing worth having in life ever comes easily so decide what you want, grab life by the horns and go for it, anything is possible!”

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