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  • Dr Kate Nickson

From Classroom Teacher to International Online Chemistry Educator

In September 2019 I took a step into the unknown, making a career change from Head of Chemistry, after 11 years in school, to Online Chemistry Tutor. Most people raised their eyebrows when I gave my job title and further explanation was inevitably needed about how it worked. Even my husband has now confessed that supportive as he was, he thought I would just about muddle by for a year before finding another job in school – traitor!

It was clear from an early stage that this was going to be a successful career change, as quality Chemistry education from an expert is in demand from students with high aspirations. Many of my students need top grades in Chemistry to target courses such as medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry and physical science courses. However, what has changed since COVID is that I no longer need to sell the benefits of online tuition, as opposed to in-person. I also no longer need to send out guidance on how to use Zoom, as it has become a fixture in most households’ social lives and for many a key part of their working day. The switch to online working has moved education towards truly being no longer limited by geography. Since beginning to work online I have taught Chemistry to students across the UK, Europe, Bahrain, Dubai, Oman and Saudi Arabia. I teach GCSE, IGCSE, A Level, IA Level and IB Chemistry.

Over the last year what I do has very much developed. I began as an “Online Chemistry Tutor” and now describe myself as an “International Online Chemistry Educator”, as what I do goes beyond just tuition to accompany UK school lessons. This year I set up my first “Online Group Chemistry Classes”, teaching IGCSE Chemistry to home educated students. I aimed these initially at UK students but have students from as far afield as the Middle East. These are fully resourced interactive classes, that provide the full learning experience. In addition I am teaching the entire IA Level course to one of my international students who is now home educated.

This year I learnt to use a green screen to record and edit my own educational videos. I threw myself in at the deep end, learning on the job as I produced a set of “Maths for Scientists” videos as part of a “University Preparedness” course for the Access Project. I have begun adapting my IGCSE classes into videos to make a self-paced course, although this is very much a work still in progress. You can find these on my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7hgdHXS5B1SUSIYO0BZKXA

Much of what I do involves making my own education resources, to enable effective online use. However, I also write resources for other organisations. In 2020 this has included writing the HE+ Programme for the University of Cambridge and Chemistry Factsheets for Curriculum Press, as well as work with the Access Project.

A key part of my summer work should involve exam marking, although it is currently notable by its absence. We still await more information on what form teacher assessments will take for this year's students. I hope that the system will be fairer than last year, stand up to scrutiny and most importantly keep our exam year students motivated. It is very apparent amongst this year’s A Level students that they have significant gaps in their understanding and knowledge due to disruption of the last year.

For me there will be no going back to the constraints of a physical classroom, the bureaucracy and the mad juggle to fit in my children as well. Now I have the best of both worlds, and I can walk my children to and from school, scheduling my work around them during the school day and in the evening. I love teaching more than ever and carving out a niche for myself in the world of Online Chemistry Education has been incredibly satisfying.

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