To teach or not to teach? It’s a life-changing decision. Being a teacher is more than just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s a challenge but one in which you can make a difference to someone every day.
You might have felt compelled to teach for as long as you can remember, or maybe you see teaching as a chance to start afresh in a rewarding career. Either way this guide is here to help, with trainee teachers, qualified teachers, teacher trainers, and other experts from the education sector all sharing their experiences.
The guide will help you to figure out if teaching is for you. It breaks how to get into teacher training into steps and is packed with tips for every stage of the journey, from making your application shine, to going into the classroom and starting your first teaching role.
Who was your favourite teacher? You’ve got one, haven’t you? What did they do for you? What makes you remember them? That’s the thing, as a teacher you get the chance to inspire people and make a difference, every day. Every day.
“ Every day I go to the classroom, I learn something new. This is either about one of my pupils, the job or myself as a person. The job is very demanding however I still get the butterflies when I start to teach, just like I did when I was starting out. This is my class; I want them to be happy and to love learning and that’s down to me. ”
“ To be able to leave my job at the end of a working day knowing that I have positively impacted the life of a child, let alone 30 children, is the main reason why I love being a teacher. Teaching is undoubtedly a challenge but a thoroughly rewarding one at that. Whilst every day brings its own challenges, no two days are the same which certainly keeps me on my toes! To know that my work has a genuine impact on people’s lives is humbling and long may it continue. ”
Why be a teacher? As a teacher you’ve got great career prospects, and a very portable job, one that will keep you close to home or take you around the world, depending on what you want to do.
We asked our qualified teachers why they teach and the reasons range from great job satisfaction, to seeing children grow in confidence, to love of learning, to lots of laughs and never being lost for a funny story. Many teachers told us there’s nothing to beat that ‘light bulb’ moment when something clicks for a pupil and you can both feel the progress they’re making.
It’s a rewarding role, and stable one that comes with a competitive salary too.
Schools develop their own pay scales to attract and retain teachers. Teachers’ pay rises are linked to excellent performance and taking on extra responsibilities, not to length of service.
While we're talking money, you’ll also want to check out government funding for teacher training courses. This changes every year depending on the current situation in terms of subject skills shortages. Also, all trainee teachers, whether on undergraduate or postgraduate courses, are eligible to apply for student finance.
You might already have noticed that there a lot of routes into teaching. Choosing the right one is quite simple once you get into it, we promise. The best route for you is determined by two key factors, these are the qualifications you already have and how certain you are that you want to teach.
So, which route to go for? You need a degree with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to teach in UK maintained schools (i.e. schools managed by the local authority). Academies and free schools are not managed by the local authority and are not required to employ teachers with QTS however, most do require it. So you'll need QTS for most teaching jobs. There are different routes to achieving QTS, depending on whether you are starting training with or without a degree.
If you already have any undergraduate degree you can apply for a postgraduate teacher training course to gain QTS. The most popular options are Postgraduate Certificate in General Education (PGCE) or School Direct. These are full-time intensive courses and you’ll achieve QTS in one year.
You can train as a primary teacher with a degree in any subject at 2:2 or above, while to train as a secondary teacher you’ll need a degree in a subject related to the one you want to teach, again at 2:2 or above. All trainee teachers need GCSE English and Maths and grade 4 or C and primary trainees need the same in GCSE Science too (double or separate subjects is fine). Why not check out our teacher training courses or read more to help you choose between PCGE or School Direct?
In some cases, you can also take a Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course to add a second secondary subject to your bow, for example if your degree is in French then you might add Spanish, or if your degree is in Chemistry, then you might add Physics.
If you don’t yet have an undergraduate degree, you’ll need to get one. Your options are:
An undergraduate teacher training course with QTS is typically intensive and full-time for three years. If you’re certain that you want to teach and can meet the relatively high entry requirements (typically about BBC at A-level or DMM for BTEC) then a course with QTS could be just right for you. Some options include BEd Primary Education or BEd Secondary Education with PE or Maths and Science.
But there are lots of good reasons to take a non-QTS course too:
Remember you need to follow any degree without QTS with a postgraduate degree with QTS if you ultimately want to become a teacher.
If you want to become an Early Years Teacher, then you have two options - Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS). But the one you choose sets you on a very different career path. QTS enables you to teach a teach a nursery or reception class in maintained schools. EYTS enables you to teach in most Early Years settings including nurseries and preschools but not in maintained schools.
You don’t need any school experience to apply for teacher training. But while teaching is very rewarding, it isn't easy. Teaching is demanding, you’ll be teaching in class and doing other work outside of those times. It’s a really good idea to go into a school to see if teaching is right for you.
You have lots of options for getting a sense of what it is like to work in schools. They range from shadowing a teacher, to volunteering with children to paid roles like after-school club helper or mealtime assistant. Meanwhile teaching assistants are uniquely positioned to get a taste for life as a teacher and often excel after making the move from teaching assistant to teacher, check these tips for getting a job as a teaching assistant.
To be accepted on a teacher training course with QTS you’ll need to submit a written application, and if this is good enough then you’ll be invited to an interview, to assess your suitability to teach.
All teacher training applications go through the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). The Admissions Tutors will be looking for aptitude and passion for teaching as well as school experience, so they can be sure you know what you’re getting into and are likely to stay the course.
A personal statement for teacher training needs to include:
Tutors want to know not just what you did, but how and why you did it. They’ll be looking out for self-awareness and commitment. And they are mega hot on grammar and spelling, as you’d expect if they’re picking the next generation of teachers. Take time to edit and proofread your personal statement, and then ask someone else to check it over in case you’ve missed anything.
We asked Kate Brimacombe, Associate Professor of Education and Associate Director of the Teacher Education Partnership at Plymouth Marjon University, what she is looking for in a personal statement for teacher training:
“It's really lovely to get something that's individual and firstly I want to see that passion for wanting to work with children. You absolutely can get that across - it comes off the page.
“I see your experience and grades elsewhere so don’t recap those but show me your personality and your drive to be a teacher. How people do that varies and so it’s that individuality I’m looking for.
"You’re at the start of a long journey so I'm also looking for independence, motivation, and self-reliance. I need to feel your commitment because teacher training is Monday to Friday, nine to five, plus assignments and reading on top. I want to see you understand those expectations and have that fire in your belly to want to make a difference in children's lives.”
A good personal statement conveys personality and passion. Describe not just what you did, but how and why you did it. Tell them what really matters to you.
You might think that your references are out of your control, but they are not. A reference can make or break a teacher training application; you need to engage with your referees for good references.
You need two referees and one of them must be a teacher at a school where you work or volunteer. If you currently work at a school one should be the Headteacher. If you work somewhere other than a school one should be your employer as they can comment on your character and potential. If you recently left university, one should be a member of staff there.
First ask your referees if they are willing to be your referee and if they think you’ve got the potential to be a good teacher. Next you need to arm them with all the arguments as to why you’ll be a good teacher, they probably don’t know everything you do.
Back to Kate for more on this: "The more information the better. A good reference just doesn't say ‘yes they were a student and I’ve known them for two years’ as that doesn’t reassure me about anything. I really value their insight and a different perspective, for example it helps when the referee describes your personal qualities or discusses your work with children or other learners.
"Choose your referees wisely. If you’re coming from a big class and don’t really know your referee, then you need to get talking to them."
A reference that is too brief won’t help you so gently explain to the referees that their references really do matter. Tell your referees about your motivations, your school experience or other relevant experience and why you think you’d be a good teacher. Set out the personal qualities you’re going to bring to the role. Provide them with examples to back up everything you talk about.
Follow up your conversation with a thank you email and in it recap the key points, so they’ve got them readily available when the times comes from them to write your reference.
You get an interview when your written application and referees suggest that you have the potential to teach. Universities only have so many teaching placements to go around and they use interviews not only to check your suitability to teach, but to pick the best candidates.
Firstly, let’s go over how to ace your teacher training interview. Teacher training interviews typically include:
The university that you are interviewing with will provide a full agenda and timings.
First impressions count and you’ll go a long way by dressing smartly, simply try to look like a teacher. It shows the interviewers that you’re taking it seriously. If you are interviewing for PE teacher training check with the university if you should wear, or bring, sports clothes.
Keep in mind at interview all the qualities that make a good teacher. Try to mention them, with examples where you can as interviewers will be looking for these qualities. Teachers need to be strong communicators, able to engage and lead their class. But teaching isn’t all about talking, it’s about listening to your pupils and looking for non-verbal cues. It’s also about being part of the staff team, in schools you must be a team player, ready to share your experiences with the rest of the teaching team. You’ll likely do a group exercise so your interviewers can see how you interact with other people.
Your interviews want to know what motivates you and what makes you tick as a teacher. Teacher training interview questions are designed to find out the following things about you:
You may be asked to prepare a lesson plan. It doesn’t have to be a professional one yet, but it does need to be well thought out. It should address key questions like: What class would you teach? What would you teach them? What would they know by the end that they didn't know before? How would you go about it? What would progress look like? How would you measure that? And what would you teach next?
Also, if you’re interviewing for secondary teaching, you’ll usually be asked to present on your subject. This is a chance for you to demonstrate your enthusiasm and subject knowledge.
We asked Julie Stevens, course leader for PGCE Secondary Education and School Direct Lead at Plymouth Marjon University, what she is looking for when interviewing aspiring teachers: “If you're passionate about your subject, you'll tell me that your subject is the most important subject in the world. And then tell me why. You may have great ideas about how to teach it, and be able to relate it to everyday life. Why do young people need to know that and how will it help them in their future lives?”.
Change is constant in teaching, so you’ll need to be flexible, likewise you’ll be teaching pupils of different ages and abilities who have different learning styles, so they’ll be looking for adaptability too. Teachers also need to be able to connect and this can take many forms, from using practical activities to bring lessons to life, to recognising that everyone learns differently, to having the empathy and patience to keep everyone on track and challenged in a way that works for them.
Reflective practice is taught in every teacher training course, being aware of it will help you impress at interview. Reflective practice is when a teacher reflects on past events with a view to improving their future teaching performance; it is something you’ll do continuously for all of your teaching career.
There are many models of reflective practice but essentially all set out a process in which you consider something you have been involved with, seek to understand it, and then learn from it.
There are two types of reflective practice:
Sounds good? It really is. This said the ability to reflect on what, why and how why you do things, and then adapt to be better, doesn’t come easy. It is a challenge to be impartial and open about your own experience. You’ll be expected to combine self-reflection with learning from other educators. This could be by asking others about the ways they do things and why, coaching and mentoring, observing or shadowing other educators, or networking online (try #EduTwitter).
You’re in, you’ve got your teacher training offer (woohoo!). What next? We'll now explore some elements that are common to all teacher training courses - these are going on teaching placements and moving into your first teaching job. If you find this helpful then check out the teacher training survivial guide for even more info.
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Real students.
While teaching placements vary from course to course, any postgraduate teacher training course offers two teaching placements in different schools and undergraduate courses have more.
To start with you can expect a week or so of induction where you observe the classes you will be teaching. This will be an essential time to watch how the group works together and what the class dynamics are like, to help you plan your future lessons for them.
You’ll likely do a pupil pursuit too; this means you’ll shadow a student for a day to see the different experiences they have across their various teachers and subjects.
You’ll also get to observe expert teachers. You want to watch the best teachers in the school, they don’t need to teach the same subject as you. Observe how they do assessments, how they question the students, how they instruct the students and how they interact with their teaching assistants. Make sure to ask to observe someone with exceptional behavioural management skills and remember, the more you watch the more you’ll learn.
You will move on to participate in some team teaching. This will mean the class teacher will begin the lesson, let you come and teach a section, and then they’ll return to close the class. This way the experienced teacher is there and sets things up ready to teach your section.
From here you will then be asked to do solo lessons where you are responsible for managing the class and the teaching. The class teacher will be present during your solo lessons, so you’ll never be alone; they’ll only help if asked or if they feel the need to step in.
If you're teaching secondary, then your first solo teaching class will most likely be with Year 7; you’ll stay observing Years 10 and 11 for longer. Primary trainees could be asked to solo teach any year group.
Top tips for a successful school placement:
Teacher recruitment runs on a whole different timescale to pretty much any other job. You need to know how it works so as not to get caught out. Wait until you’ve got your degree and you’ll be too late.
Many schools start to recruit for September in January, with most teaching jobs being advertised from March to late May and the last few roles gone by early July. But your teacher training course likely ends in July, so you’ll likely be applying of your first teaching job ahead of qualifying as a teacher. This can feel a little wild if you’re on a one-year route into teaching, as you’re applying for jobs when you’re only halfway into your teacher training. But try to just go with it, and remind yourself that future employers will totally understand, after all, they’ve been there themselves.
A strong application for a first teaching job will express the following things, backing up your words with relevant real-life examples:
Before you write anything read through the job description or person specification. These outline exactly the qualifications, knowledge, experience, and skills required for the role. Think of it as all the criteria that the school is going to be shortlisting against and aim to show how you meet every one.
To save time you’ll want to write a standard application that you can reuse but make sure to customise it for every school. The team there will care deeply about their school and their pupils, they’ll want to see the same coming from you. Find out what you can about the school and then showcase how your experience maps to their school community. You can do this by checking out the school website, doing a Google news search for the school, and by using the governments Compare Schools portal to see their pupil demographics, the latest exam and test results, and Ofsted reports.
A great application will give your future employers an insight into who you are and what you stand for. You can get this across by outlining why you wanted to get into teaching and by telling them a little about your experience of teacher training, for example by outlining the aspects that you found to be the challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding. See our article on how to apply for your first teaching job for more detailed tips on where to find a teaching job and on how to structure your job application.
Mentoring encourages and nurtures people to manage their own learning so that they develop their skills and improve their performance. The special thing about mentoring is that it’s a reciprocal relationship. Everyone benefits in successful mentoring relationships. The mentee gets support on their journey to becoming the best teacher they can be while the mentor, through exploring the development needs of the mentee, reflects on their own practice and is able to view their own practice through a critical lens.
Mentoring is well established in teacher training, for example if you train to teach at Marjon you would have a mentor to support you. Mentoring has been proven to boost the retention of new teachers and so the new Early Career Framework (ECF) requires that all new teachers have a mentor for two years after they qualify.
The key to a positive mentoring relationship is establishing trust between mentor and mentee. It’s a collaborative process that requires commitment and openness. So, what does an effective mentoring relationship look like?
“ The most important thing is trust. There needs to be an ability to reflect and talk about things that are happening in an honest and thoughtful way. The mentor nurtures, bringing experience and subject expertise and encouraging the mentee to engage with evidence-based research. The mentee needs to be reflective, that's crucial. Self-reflective and proactive. They’re a team, but working together to develop independence, not dependence. ”
There are a number of mentoring models that can be used by mentor and mentee to help structure their conversations. One is the GROW model; it works like this:
• Goal. What does the mentee want to achieve? What routes might you take?
• Reality. What is the current situation? What has been tried already and what did we learn from it?
• Options. What are the options? Look for more than two!
• Win commitment or Way forward. Set the next goal.
Marjon trainees are mentored in line with Gibbs’ reflective cycle, first set out by Graham Gibbs in 1988.
It is an excellent framework for examining experiences and thanks to its cyclic nature lends itself well to repeated experiences, like teaching. It has five stages:
You’ll typically also agree the terms of the mentoring agreement, this is where mentor and mentee sign up to commitments around the boundaries of the mentoring relationship. These commitments tend to include a shared understanding around the roles in the relationship and cover confidentiality, frequency and duration of meetings.
You, the mentee, drive the mentoring relationship and take actions to drive your own development and call on guidance from the mentor. You’ll naturally have lots of questions and ultimately, you’re the one responsible for finding the answers and developing your own self-learning. It’s also important to remember that while you might be talking about quite personal things this is always a professional relationship and forum for professional discussion.
“ Having a mentor is about development and reflection, you get to benefit from their judgement. It's absolutely not telling you what to do. And actually, a mentor can reflect back that you're doing really well when you’re being too hard on yourself. For example, the mentor might say things like ‘well I've heard that this went really well’ and ‘I saw you doing that very effectively in this lesson. There can be a lot of personal growth for both mentor and mentee. ”
This is what you should expect from your mentor, they will:
The mentor’s role is to move the relationship to a place where the mentee achieves independence, and is no longer reliant on the mentor. The mentor needs to support the mentee to a stage where they can say “I'm standing with you, let's learn together”. One example could be the mentee is struggling to manage the class behaviour then the mentor might model some strategies, direct the mentee to work observe teachers in action, and engage in some reading and research. The mentee does this, develops an action plan and puts it into place. Then mentor and mentee then come back together to evaluate and reflect on the impact of what they've done, and they set new actions based on the outcome. So, it becomes a reflective cycle.
The Department for Education teaching blog says that the Early Career Framework is something to get excited about, and it really is! The enhanced support it offers to new teachers makes this the perfect time to get into teaching. If you want to train to teach, then Plymouth Marjon University can help as we’ve got an extensive range of teacher training courses. We’ve been training teachers since 1840, we know education and we’d love to be part of your journey into teaching.
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