A STEP student from Cohort 12 in black dress on the AgaKhan Centre terrace garden

Attiya Nathoo is in her final year of the IIS’s Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP). Here she shares her experience of the course, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the three biggest lessons she’s learned as she approaches graduation.

As I write this, I reflect on my journey from being a STEP student to pursuing this dream of becoming a STEP teacher! It’s a feeling that’s difficult to define in words.

Studying at the IIS is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity; it not only equips you with academic proficiency but also pushes you to explore and strengthen life skills such as communication, resilience, time management, reflective thinking and, of course, cooking (especially for people like me who start from scratch)! Although Covid-19 has affected our experience of teaching and learning at the IIS, I consider myself blessed enough to have had the opportunity to live and experience ‘pre-Covid’ life in London. The memories that we made and the bonds that we established before the pandemic gave strength to our cohort to surpass the most challenging times. We did not give up at any point, birthdays and festival celebrations went virtual, we saw the vulnerable sides of each other and still chose to be together! You definitely find a home away from home here, which is the beauty of this course—every individual that you meet has a heart-touching story and, in spite of all the diversity we have, there are still experiences and aspirations that we share in common, which connects us all together. Overall, the journey of the STEP programme is certainly a roller-coaster ride, you will have your highs and lows, but at the end it is your passion towards teaching and the goals that you set for yourself that in turn motivate and act as positive reinforcements to push your limits and overcome all the obstacles.

Moving from a South Asian country to the West has brought many challenges as well as opportunities my way, but here are the top three things that I have experienced and learned as a student at the IIS and living in the dream city of London:

1. Rich module coursework: Since the STEP programme is made up of candidates from various geographical and cultural backgrounds, every individual comes in with their own set of beliefs, practices and ideologies. What is interesting is to see how these are then shaped or reformed by the rich modules that this course offers, from History to Qur’an to Faith, Ethics and Practice, to name a few. Every stage of this programme challenges the long-held beliefs and assumptions one has lived with an entire lifetime and therefore encourages you to think, question and rationalise to make meaning. As a result, over a period of time, you begin to develop new perspectives and become a critical thinker. This not only takes place by engaging in intensive academic coursework but also through interactions with diverse people within the cohort and outside. With such rich diversity, you learn not only by reading books but also through human connections and experiences that make living in London even more exciting!

2. Reflect! Reflect! Reflect! A very critical component of being a STEP teacher is the ability to reflect and learn from those reflections. Initially, this process was limited to my teaching experiences and professional development. However, I have now begun to see its application in my everyday life. STEP not only builds your academic skills but also sets you up for continuous personal development that extends beyond the course. Through these reflections you learn to be grateful and appreciate all the tiny opportunities that come your way and set you up for success!

3. Lockdown adventure: When I first joined STEP in 2019, I was prepared for it to be a roller-coaster ride. However, little did anyone know how this ride would go upside down with the sudden and endless emotional, mental and physical stress brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Going from being able to travel, explore and interact with my peers outside, to being limited to the four walls of my room, this journey has definitely been extremely challenging, but nevertheless has made all of us resilient enough to overcome these tests. Although my cohort were all physically distant from each other, the pandemic has actually bought all of us even more close emotionally, which was the need of the hour. From constant check-in emails from IIS professors and Student Services to virtual events for our cohorts and celebrating birthdays and festivals, we were able to sail through the toughest lockdown measures with the amazing social support received by the IIS, our student accommodation team and, of course, our beautiful STEP family! We were also very concerned about how things would work on the academic front under the ‘new normal’. Yet none of the modular coursework was compromised amidst this pandemic chaos. In fact, we had the opportunity to interact and learn from some of the best subject-specific experts and professors, thanks to the virtual learning platform.

Going back home for winter break made me realise how unique and big an opportunity it is to study in a city like London and graduate from one of the most esteemed universities in the world. With six months left until I complete my course, I wish to make the most of it by managing my time more effectively and working on my intellectual and practical skill development. As they say, you really value and appreciate things and moments when they are gone. I am really looking forward to these next six months to make more memories, experience the beauty of this city, and expand my horizons by interacting with the amazing cross-disciplinary faculty at the IIS.

And I would only end by saying: London, you have my heart!

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