Jemma's adventurous journey into a dream career - Art Teacher

Jemma's adventurous journey into a dream career - Art Teacher

Jem Graham

17:55 (28 minutes ago)
to me

My story.

My story is just going to let you know how strongly I feel for people following a path towards a career that they just know is for them. I was incredibly lucky to have found my passion in a subject at school, and I know many don’t.

Art was something I grew in confidence with from a young age. I was good at it, and I was surrounded by it with my dad being an architect and having an older brother being very artistic, too.

Many students at the time were told not to go into art as they would be told career prospects / learning potential is low in that subject… and even many years later as a teacher of art and design subjects, it’s sadly still something you hear and students are kept away from this subject. People in my life never said that. It was an attitude of follow what you are passion about and what you are good at.

Degrees advanced into the digital world, photography was booming and being talked about at career days… even my dad was being taught CAD after basing a whole lifetime career on technical drawing and creating plans by hand. So to become a design technology specialist and an art teacher years later, it’s not really surprising. My mum instilled great independence and belief in myself, my art teachers fuelled my passion with their dedication.

So yeah, I now am still a firm believer in not always being too worried what the job itself will be in the end, as there is always something for everyone in their field of expertise that will be sought after. Love what you do, do what you love.

Getting to Uni wasn't as straight forward.

I had taken my Art GCSE early and achieved an A grade. I didn’t particularly like other aspects of school and in hindsight, had I not loved art so much, things could have gone very differently for me.

In the years running up to my A levels, like thousands of other families around the UK, mine broke down. Feuding parents, changing priorities, lack of stability… all those things. This, on top of a string of events, just spiralled things out of control.

I made a choice sat out in the corridor after been thrown out yet again that day of class. Do well. Get this last year or so over with of school, and have every chance of opening up opportunities when it’s over. My family had moved all over, my friend lived opposite the school… I stayed there on the sofa to do my A Level exams. Yet another blessing.

I worked when I could but home life did prevent me from focussing on school and I got into trouble frequently. However, I made the exams, and the same teacher that threw me out of class gave me the highest art achievement award at the final school ceremony. I never made the ceremony as I was working on the other side of the city, but I still have the trophy and it is a nice reminder.

I continued with my weekend job and being weekend supervisor as I turned 18 and having that responsibility and motivation helped - I got to sneak a lot of samples during my break too :) and I took all the hours I could over the following weeks into the Summer break.

I saw some friends going to University and just knew I should be too.

I had completed some interviews for University around the country to study art earlier in the year… Notthingham, Salisbury, Bristol etc, but they weren’t accepting me as my portfolio was so varied and, looking back, a nervous, fairly shy, unsure student, not able to sell myself also didn’t help - I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.

I had interviews for Fine Art, Graphics, Photography… I couldn’t think straight at that time and began to lose confidence. Advice from universities was to do an Art Foundation Diploma to refine the area I would specialise in. It was now Summer and the clearing stages for higher education, and I had to do something. So I did.

Art Foundation gave me everything I needed

I flicked through a UCAS book that listed course centres at the back that did Art Foundation. I saw an Art College listed in an area I had liked and had visited, but knew absolutely nothing about. I was in Birmingham, but I chose GLOSCAT… an art college in Gloucester, who had a final open day to get registered.

Without writing a single message to them (no smart phones or laptops at home to research or send a quick message to, back then) I packed a single bag, bought the train fare, and arrived on a Friday as they were signing people up in their lobby.

I approached the desk, gave my details and they was asked how I would be paying. Erm? Oh no… hadn’t thought this through, so thinking on my feet I said I had an appointment with student finance next week. Phew, they gave me some information for the course starting on Monday and I went off to find the student finance department. Then I had to find somewhere to live too :)

With the little savings I had from Summer, I booked into a little B&B for the next week so I could start college. No art equipment, didn’t think this through either. Borrowing a brush I would sketch and paint with the tea in the room… it worked fine for my first week at art college :) I was off and I was so happy.

It was tough, and I always saw that raised eyebrow as I ran in late to life drawing, every single Monday! I was renting a room from a local elderly couple who were very sweet and I could do all my work, use their kitchen, get to college on the bus and do all my research and sketches at the local docks and cathedral. For me, it was perfect. GLOSCAT changed my life. Oh and yes, they funded the course for me :)

Finally a degree course

9 months later I was heading to Portsmouth University, after a string of successful interviews, to study Fashion and Textiles Design.

I hadn’t long got off the train for my interview there and the tutor told me that day I had something special. These little details are the ones you remember. You remember the knocks and the tutors that just don’t get you too - university art critiques are full of them!… but you cling to the ones who make you feel understood. Resilience I have in abundance and the kind tutors out there you meet are gold.

I achieved a first class honours degree (whilst still working 25 hours a week in Thorntons to fund my HE studies), and found myself working as product developer before I had even graduated for a local successful sports company - wasn’t really for me but experience all the same and a confidence boost in being chosen out of others to be given the opportunity.

Just a couple of years later I was working in schools and getting commissions for art/craft work. I took some teaching assistant training and the rest is history really. It was 2010 when I was an NQT, and by 2014 I was heading up my own Department and had great success, and fulfilment, in working in education.

I’ve since travelled the world and found online work with the Online College of Art and Design. So here I am :)

Final note...

Knowing the difference I can now make to those that perhaps waited a lot longer than me to see a door of opportunity into a dream career open for them, is so far a highlight of my career to date. I know how fortunate I am for many things, and my story is by far not the toughest, but it’s one of determination when the odds start to stack against you. My financial status and feeling alone at a time of a crossroads in my life as to what to do next, were not in favour of doing a degree. Never give up on your dream.

How many students walk the other way, away from education? A very high number who actually believe they will fail. Whose memory of school was such a negative one that they’re now apprehensive to go back into education at all?!

At Access Courses Online we want to build a bridge so that no matter when it happens, the opportunity to get back into what you started and loved, will be there once again.

I’m here to talk to, support you and to drive your ambition into a reality by the time you finish with Access Courses Online. I am committed to ensuring every student knows their worth and providing them with the best provision through a top team of tutors. As Head of Vocational Learning, I’ve got your back.

And, if like me, Art is something you love...well, we have an access course in Art and Design to get you through those interviews and get you that place you deserve.

Look forward to meeting you,


Head of Vocational Learning
Access Courses Online
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