You may have a lot of questions about getting into teaching, but there are so many articles with the same old answers. Don’t worry, we’ve got real answers from real teachers who trained right here at Plymouth Marjon University.
Before we get the lowdown, let’s meet teachers Chloe and Johnson.
Chloe Carrubba is an English teacher in a secondary school: “What I enjoy about teaching is that you are always bettering yourself, being reflective and improving. I love that because it means every day I’m striving to do better. My favourite aspect of the job is just being in the room with young people. They’re funny, they’re clever, they’re bright, they’re hopeful. Teaching through a pandemic was challenging, but one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
Johnson Wenner is an upper key stage 2 leader in a primary school, a Year 6 class teacher and PE coordinator. He says: “One of the key things that sold teaching to me was all that support that you get in the build-up process. I don't specialise in one specific area. I've got multiple things I want to teach and can teach content in a creative way. I'm quite diverse and adaptable. I get to react on the spot and decide that ‘I’m going to do this instead’. Being able to stand out in front of the class and bring what they’re learning alive really helps students to take it in, and that inspires me.”
Even if you’re teaching the same subject and the same class, every day is different. Each pupil brings their own ideas and so there is always something new to discuss. Chloe explains how learning can be collaborative and shaped by the response of the pupils in any one class: “I’ll be reading with students, watching them connect with new texts and authors, and applying their perception of the modern-day world to Shakespeare. I think it's incredible how they make those links and make it relevant to today.”
Pupils bring new perspectives every day, they open your eyes to new possibilities. Back to Chloe to tell us more: “What I enjoy about teaching is that you’re always bettering yourself and going through a process of being reflective and improving. There's no end and I personally love that because it means every day I'm striving to do better. It keeps me young whilst giving me a few grey hairs! There's never a day where I do something and I think it worked by fluke because you’re always kind of analysing and constantly trying to do better.”
Even while your school guidelines and the national curriculum set out what you must teach, you have freedom in the ways you teach. For example, take maths - you can choose to write our sums, or get practical by counting objects or building towers, or go outdoors to look for shapes, or have one child recap the lesson with another child so that learning is reinforced for both.
You also need to get creative in the moment as Johnson explains: “Sometimes you have to say 'I haven't got time to do this', or you need to adapt things or multitask. Just take every day as it comes. Sometimes the plan doesn't work so you must learn to deviate from it. Understand the context and try and get everything ready before. But if things are becoming too much it’s okay to go off the plan and adapt to the way the children are working. For example, maybe you run out of time to mark work so you could give some verbal feedback instead, which is sometimes more meaningful to the children anyway. Go with the best way for the children to learn at the time. Always recognise that things can be adapted, you don't have to stick to the plan, sometimes you need to be flexible to get the best outcomes for the children”.
Chloe adds that one key skill for all teachers is being able to connect: “Teaching is a lot of skills coming together, but the main one is being able to connect with young people, so make sure that you have that connection and are willing to develop it further before you go into teaching. That's the one thing that can't be taught. If you’re thinking about going into teaching then give it a try first, for example I was a professional singer and I had the opportunity to lead singing workshops with groups of children. That enabled me to teach and see whether or not it was something I enjoyed”.
At first, like when you start with anything new, there will be things that feel hard. Johnson remembers this from his early experience as a trainee: “One of the things I struggled with at first was the workload management, for example organising and getting plans together. But challenge isn’t necessarily a bad thing and as a new teacher you do get extra time in the day outside of the classroom to catch up on lesson plans. And if you stay in the same year group then you've got that planning ready for years to come, you just adapt it”.
As a trainee suddenly being emersed in teaching can be a huge change and Johnson found you’ve got to be intentional about striking a good balance: “I had my university work, but I was also being offered more opportunities in schools that I was desperate to take. The challenge for me was find that balance in terms of professional practice and keeping on top of my university work”.
Many teachers and trainee teachers agree that seeing the children’s progression is the most rewarding part of teaching. Johnson explains: “The children are wonderful. I’ve always had the mindset that a child is probably looking forward to the day with you, that's why I went into teaching - to help other people”.
Many teachers say they sign up for the job to make a real difference. As Johnson explains, because you care you sometimes can't help but think about the children in your downtime: “Sometimes you do struggle with the pastoral side of things when you know that difficult stuff going on in the child's life. You do go home sometimes thinking about that. You can never really leave those things at the door, but I see that as a positive, because I go home and relax and then I can better see how I can do it differently tomorrow”.
There is joy in helping a child to succeed. It can come from seemingly small things, but with each small thing you see the child grow in confidence. For example, when one of Johnson's pupil's overcame a physical challenge in PE. He tells it like this: “Children are so capable and sometimes they surprise you. I had a recent instance with a child who has hypermobility issues, they often won’t give things a go in PE because they worry that it is going to really hurt. We had gymnastics and I said to the children 'Let's see if you can hold a balance for 30 seconds'. I set it up as a choice and the child with hypermobility chose to try it and held the balance for the full 30 seconds. Those moments inspire you and then you go home with a smile on your face.”
Chloe echoes that sense of motivation to do your best by your pupils: “I think sometimes teaching can be seen as an easy route. And I tell you it’s not, it's a hard route but incredibly rewarding. I wish I could go back and tell myself that this was what I'd always meant to do, was always meant to do. I wish I could go back and tell that to little trainee me. You get those moments when you know you're really making a difference. I want to make a difference for young people, and I know that in this job I do that every day and that's amazing.”
As a teacher you teach so much more than simply the academic subjects; teachers are great role models for their students, and they shape their future with the passion they bring into the lessons.
Teaching offers half terms and longer holidays than most jobs but is still renowned for long hours.
Most schools understand the importance of a good work/life balance for teachers and flex when they can. It is accepted that teachers sometimes do need more time out of class to catch up on other jobs, such as marking and planning. Johnson says: “It's not 8.30 to 3.30, it's a bit more than that, but with the Ofsted framework that's coming in teachers work life balance is improving significantly. I see that myself. Sometimes we get more time out of class for planning, with teachers to cover us so that the time is there. You do get some time out for family things too.”
Good teams share workloads collaboratively and efficiently to reduce it for everyone, for example creating and sharing a lesson plan or ensuring no-one is doubling up on paperwork. In addition, working in a team allows teachers to bounce ideas off each other and adapt the ways they do things.
There is more support available for new teachers than ever before thanks to the new Early Career Framework which guarantees further training and mentoring for two years after qualifying.
There are always opportunities to try new things and tune lessons and methods. There is no right or wrong way to do your teaching job (if you stick to school guidelines and the curriculum!). If you are doing something well there is always a way to reflect and improve it, and there are clear career paths so you can see where you might want to go in future.
Feel tempted to teach? If so, then you could see our teacher training courses, find out how to write your teacher training personal statement or check out the teacher training survival guide for the inside track from trainee teachers.