Jo Dick

Jo Dick

Education Officer – Primary Specialist, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh

Describe your typical day

It varies depending on the time of year, but usually I start off preparing for lessons, which involve quite a lot of props so there’s a lot to get ready. I teach from about 10am until 2pm, working with various age groups – from teaching animal handling to 18 month olds, right up to university groups and adult classes as well.

Throughout the afternoon I do lesson planning in the winter time, and during April, May and June I usually focus on preparations for Summer School as it’s a very busy time of year!

We have 400 children that come in for a week at a time in July and do lots of different activities at the zoo. I’m the Summer School Co-ordinator so I manage a team of 13 people and there’s a huge amount of planning that has to be done in preparation for it – arranging places, sorting resources and planning the programme.

Both my parents are conservationists so I have got very strong conservation and zoology background; so even though I don’t have a formal qualification in it, my general knowledge is pretty good.

Environmental education is one of our most popular sectors on the site, how did you get into the job?

Strangely enough I did a Literature degree originally! Then I did a primary teaching qualification after that, but I decided it wasn’t for me, and I wanted to do something a bit more varied.

Both my parents are conservationists so I have got very strong conservation and zoology background; so even though I don’t have a formal qualification in it, my general knowledge is pretty good. I was incredibly lucky to get the job here at Edinburgh Zoo – but it was the combination of my teaching qualification and conservation knowledge that helped.

What other skills do you use in your job?

You have to have a lot of enthusiasm, and it is quite a skill remaining tremendously enthusiastic throughout the day. You also need quite a lot of stamina for teaching, as there is an element of performance involved.

How many people are in your team, and what are their backgrounds?

In the teaching team there are 8 of us currently, and another 3 in the outreach team which is just getting started. Two people also trained as teachers, but they had zoology degrees as well.

Other members of staff don’t have a teaching qualification but have lots of teaching experience combined with a degree in zoology or animal behaviour. So it is quite varied, but I think that is good as it allows us to have a wide range of skills.

I think the reason that I was brought in was because I have the primary teaching specialism, and then the others help me out when my zoology knowledge fails! We’re a good team.

Any advice for people wanting to get into environmental education?

I was incredibly lucky, and really didn’t think there was any point in applying for this job as I don’t have a biology or zoology qualification. So I think just give everything a try! You never know what employers are looking for.

It’s always interesting looking at the new team members that come in, because they always bring very different skills to the table. You just never know! Getting a lot of voluntary experience helps as well – I did voluntary work with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. We have lots of volunteers that help us out at the zoo – and I think more formalised volunteering programmes are being established in many zoos these days, which makes for a much better experience.