Profile: Nicola Morea

Former PGCE trainee who is now undertaking PhD research to support teaching in multilingual classrooms

Nicola Morea

What do you do if you love the idea of teaching, but also feel passionate about research? In Nicola Morea’s case, the answer is: do both. At the age of 29, he has already completed a PGCE and Masters with the Faculty, and is now part-way through his PhD. He has also been a professional teacher, head of department, and mentored another Faculty trainee. He told us why he made the decisions he has, and how he has managed to maintain an active interest in teaching, research, and school leadership.

The first step in my education career was a little unplanned

I grew up in Pavia, in Italy, studied at the local university, and then did my first Masters degree at the University of Languages and Media in Milan. I’m very passionate about languages and translation and in particular the research side of those subjects. My original plan was to do a PhD and study or practise translation, but it was hard to find an appropriate course that would set me up for a career in that field.

There was a moment after my Masters when I didn’t really know what I was going to do. Because I had never been to the UK and always wanted to go, I decided to join a British Council programme that recruits foreign language assistants into schools. I moved here in 2015 to work at a school in Newbury in Berkshire. Fairly quickly I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching, and was also really interested in the education system. The experience really persuaded me that teacher training was something I would like to do; within about six months of starting the programme, I applied to do a PGCE.

I found it hard to imagine going into teaching without maintaining the research side of things

The Cambridge PGCE, and a subsequent Masters at the Faculty, enabled me to pursue my new passion for teaching while also maintaining my interest in research

I guess teaching had always been in my mind as a sort of ‘Plan B’, and I had a long-term ambition to go to Cambridge. By the time I applied for the PGCE – thanks in particular to my experiences in Newbury – it was pretty clear that teaching had become a new passion. When I realised that I could study a Secondary PGCE in Modern Languages at Cambridge, I thought, why not give it a try? I had two really good placements with partner schools in Cambridgeshire and Essex, but the highlight of the PGCE course was the research assignments, which help you to think more deeply about your professional practice.

Despite this change of course I really wanted to keep the research up as well – in fact I found it hard to imagine going into teaching without maintaining that side of things. I therefore applied to follow up the PGCE with a part-time Masters at the Faculty straight away, while I was doing my NQT. It was a very busy year, but another enjoyable one. My research focused on students’ motivation to learn languages. In Italy, English is key to a successful career so there’s an instrumental motivation that drives students to the subject. Here in Britain, students’ attitudes to languages are very different, so I was interested in seeing how we can go about boosting their motivation and giving their experience of language-learning more of a sense of purpose.

Nicola Morea

I became head of department and a mentor at my school in my second year

I went to work at the partner school in Cambridge where I had undertaken my PGCE placement. During my second full year, the school suddenly found itself with reduced staff in the language department and I had the chance to step up to become co-head of department. At the same time, they needed a staff member to mentor that year’s PGCE student from the Faculty. I felt it was really important that we kept the connection as strong and supportive as possible, so I also asked to do that.

The role of a mentor is to manage the experience of a PGCE student while they are on placement at your school. You organise a work schedule with them, act as a point of reference and advice, and evaluate their work. In a nutshell, it’s about ensuring that the placement is as useful for them as you can possibly make it.

It was a really lovely experience. Because I had been a trainee myself only two years earlier, all of that was still fresh in my mind – in fact at times it felt strange that I was already mentoring someone else! But it worked out really well. When you’re working closely with someone who is learning to become a teacher, you have to reflect on your own practice a lot and on the relationship between pedagogical theory and what you are doing in the classroom. I found it a really motivating and inspiring thing to do.

Today, every teacher is, in some ways, a language teacher, because classrooms themselves are so multilingual and multicultural

Nicola Morea

Six years after I originally thought about it, I’m finally doing a PhD

Towards the end of that year I was accepted to do a PhD back in the Faculty. The school asked me to stay and carry on, and it was a really tough decision to leave. I very much wanted to do both and still consider teaching and research as essential parts of my career.

I’m now in the second year of the PhD course. I’m researching how to help teachers increase their understanding and confidence when working with students from different linguistic backgrounds. Today, every teacher is, in some ways, a language teacher, because classrooms themselves are so multilingual and multicultural. Part of my PhD research therefore explores trainee teachers’ attitudes to multilingualism and to teaching in multilingual classrooms. For the other part, I’m developing and testing an intervention that could potentially be embedded in teacher training itself to help prepare them for teaching in multilingual environments.

It’s difficult to imagine doing this research anywhere else

We are fortunate at the Faculty because we have a research group which focuses on Second Language Education with its own sub-strand on multilingual schools.

If you want to be able to support teachers in a multilingual environment you have to study linguistics and education together. For example, you have to know the mechanics of how language works, the challenges around multilingualism and how multilingual children’s brains develop while they are at school. But at the same time, you also have to understand pedagogy, the classroom environment, and how schools operate. It’s very unusual to find a place where you can access leading expertise on all of those things under one roof. The research group balances the linguistic aspect and the educational side of the field in a way that you would struggle to find anywhere else.

I wouldn't say I've come full circle: I'd say I'm on a different track

The beauty of the PGCE course, and the other study programmes I’ve undertaken, is that it has opened different doors

All this started because I wanted to do a PhD, but I wouldn’t say I’ve come full circle: I’d say I’m on a different track. I still have a passion for translating, I still love language research, and I still really enjoy teaching. The great thing about the route I’ve ended up taking is that, while I’ve had to close some doors, those all remain open options. I find that suits me really well, because life changes, and it’s nice to be able to have some choices available when you’re thinking about where you might go next.

Nicola Morea