Jack Symes, PGDipED

What is your current job? 

I teach philosophy at King Edward VI High School for Girls. 

Why did you choose to train to teach with the University of Birmingham? 

I wanted to understand the theory of teaching and that is what the University of Birmingham's PGDipEd course offers. The University’s school of education is ranked 25th worldwide and the course lecturer is the best in the business. 

What advice would you give potential students looking to train to teach? 

If you're reading this, then your decision is made; just make sure that you pick the best place to study. Experience is essential, but you need the underlying theory behind teaching to flourish. Make sure you're choosing a course and university that can offer that. 

What support did you receive during your time at Birmingham?

The support I have received from my mentor has been phenomenal. Sincerely, of all the opportunities and successes that I have been afforded since leaving the university, I owe to my mentor. 

During the course itself, the staff at the School of Education are incredibly supportive. The administrative team, the course lecturers – the department is full of wonderful people. There is a unique sense of togetherness which is contagious from day one. 

What was the best thing about your time at the University of Birmingham? 

The best thing? Besides the late nights, early starts, and the sense of existential dread that sets in when you refer to yourself by the title that has for so long being associated with your parent? Well, the guest speakers that are invited in are brilliant, and it’s rather fun to pose them challenging questions. Topping that would be lunchtime beverages with ‘the squad’ at the Staff House (the University’s premium drinking hole). 

What is your role now and how have you progressed in your career since training to teach? 

I am currently teaching at King Edward VI High School for Girls. It’s a beautiful independent school in Edgbaston for girls aged 11-18. I took time out after my PGDipEd to complete an MA in philosophy at the University of Liverpool. Having trained to teach at the University of Birmingham, I was afforded the opportunity to teach undergraduate ethics and philosophy of religion in Liverpool. This is where I also began to produce The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast, which I am eager to shamelessly promote in a moments time! The University of Birmingham provided me with a strong background in teaching studies, which was hugely influential in my professional development.  

Why did you choose to go into teaching? 

Why teach?” At face value, the question seems quite straightforward. I’ve been asked this question countless times, and at this point, I admit it is difficult not conjure up the vague clichés. In my mind, all of the great philosophers were (and are) teachers. Although, many of them are (and were) much better at the former. To steal from Marx, the majority of philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways - the point, however, is to change it. I wanted to change the world. Supporting and inspiring young people to study philosophy is exceptionally rewarding. The ability to deliberate fundamental questions - questions of political philosophy, religion, life and truth – is crucial to a person’s education. I think we need much more of this in our society - to quote George Berkeley, "everyone has opinions, but few think." Ah, wait! That’s what it is! We got there eventually... teaching young people to think. That’s what’s important - that’s why I teach. 

How did training to teach at the University of Birmingham enhance your career prospects? 

Well, it’s a part of the Russell Group, it’s a world top 100 university and the School of Education is ranked 25th worldwide. If you pass the course, then universities and schools can see that you know your stuff. This is an excellent opportunity to mention that the course is extremely tough. You need to be going into it with the right intentions. If it is ‘just to get a job’, you won’t last – don’t apply. If you want to inspire people and change the world for the better, the hard work will be second nature, and you will enjoy it tremendously. After all, every day is a day off when you love what you do. 

Tell us about your podcast – how did it begin? 

The podcast is extremely exciting. The Panpsycast (pronounced pan-psy-cast) was created when I was a student at the University of Birmingham. I pitched the idea to another alumnus (and my mentor at the time) Andrew Horton and he suggested that a good friend of his, Olly Marley (that another alumnus), would also be interested in joining the show. Almost two years later, we’ve interviewed some of the biggest philosophers in the world and achieved numerous spots on iTunes’ top education podcast chart, but most importantly, we’ve inspired and supported students of philosophy. 

For me, philosophy begins with a discussion with oneself, or a discussion with other people. On-demand podcasts, 'informal and informative' discussions, seemed to be the way forward. I thought we could create a podcast that was cool; something students would want to listen to. Luckily, I was right, and almost two years on we have over 50,000 subscribers. We've gone from just supporting A Level students and teachers, to providing high-level philosophy to undergrads, postgrads and academics. However, the most exciting thing for me is that ‘non-philosophers’ are listening to. I have people writing in to say that we have inspired them to take degrees in philosophy or that we've helped them achieve an A in their exam. 

My favourite message was from a listener called Kevin Zaleski (I never forget his name) – every time I sit down and edit the show, his kind words come to mind – “Your podcast is what’s making the grey landscape of Tokyo just a little brighter every day.” 

What’s the aim of the podcast? 

Simply stated, “The Panpsycast is an 'informal and informative' philosophy podcast that supports teachers, students and academics in philosophy. We also aim to awaken fellow free-thinkers worldwide and inspire a new generation of philosophers.” 

Why are you so passionate about inspiring young people to get into philosophy? 

“The unexamined life is not worth living”, and I want my students lives to be worth living.