Getting into Teaching in the UK
With many people interested in going into teaching, applications are on the increase for teacher training courses. However, there are many who are rejected from their courses, or find that it isn't actually the career for them. Here is a quick guide for those in the UK who are thinking about becoming a teacher, and what to do to ensure you've made the right choices.
1. Give it serious consideration
A lot of people decide to go into a career in teaching on a whim. This is not the best way to make a decision! Teaching is a long, tricky and exhausting job, that will not suit everyone. For those of you thinking that the school day starts at 9am and finishes at 3.30pm, you may be very unpleasantly surprised by the amount of time that needs to go into making the work successful. Think lesson plans, marking, creation of worksheets, department meetings, parents evenings... The list goes on!
One important question to ask yourself is are you going into teaching for the right reasons? So, the holidays are great, and it fits in around childcare. But it will take a lot more than this to give you the dedication to remain in teaching. At secondary level you will need a passion for your subject, and for all teachers the desire to pass on knowledge to future generations is essential.
Establish how much you like being around children and young people. If you like the idea of meeting with friends, but not their children, its highly unlikely you would make an ideal teacher. Remember, if you teach, you have a classroom full of them!! You need to be able to communicate with them as well, and your enthusiasm needs to rub off on even the most temperamental of your pupils.
2. Look at all of the options
There are a number of training options you can take into teaching, and your decisions need to be made based on what is best for you. The best places to get this information for those of you in the UK is the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR) or The Teaching Agency (formerly the TDA). For any of you outside of the UK, you should be able to gain information from your local education department, or even some local schools. Some of the routes into teaching for those in the UK are detailed below.
- Undergraduate degree with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)
This route takes you through a relevant undergraduate degree before you take on the necessary teacher training element. More common in primary than secondary teaching, you can often complete your three years of study and then start your teaching job straight away.
- Undergraduate degree then a PGCE
This is a year longer, but in many cases at secondary level this is the standard route into teaching. At this level, you specialise in a subject area, and your undergraduate degree needs to be at lest 50% relevant to the subject you intend to teach. You can then apply for a PGCE (Professional/Post Graduate Certificate in Education), where you learn the skills to be able to then teach the subject to school pupils.
- For those who already have a degree, there are three ways to gain your qualification for teaching. The first is to study a PGCE, as detailed above. If you have been working and are looking for a career change, you may not have the exact knowledge from your qualification that the PGCE providers are looking for, therefore some universities will offer a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course, to take either before the PGCE or alongside it. The second is to gain a place in a school on the Schools Direct programme (formerly the Graduate Teacher Programme). In this case you are employed by a school and trained on the job, with attendance at study days throughout the year. The final route is to join TeachFirst, a charitable organisation. This organisation will give you six weeks of theory training, after which you are placed into a challenging school - one where the targets are not being met, or where the standards are not very good. These tend to be inner city schools. Although a tough route to take, I have spoken to people who have done this and really enjoyed it, however I know this is not the route I will be taking!
3. Before you start your study
Before you embark on that study route, it is essential you get some experience of working with the age group you will be teaching. The best way to do this is to either volunteer or get a job in a school. There are a number of support roles in a school that are ideal for the classroom experience you need, whether it be a technician, classroom assistant or a learning mentor. The problem with these roles is that they are few and far between, and if you have little or no school experience already, notoriously difficult to get into.
This is why most people apply for voluntary roles in a school. I spent one day a week volunteering in a science department at a local secondary school for the Autumn term, and at my daughter's primary school in the Spring term. It is ideal for working out whether this is the path for you, as it will give you a good idea of how the classroom environment works, and how you cope in that setting. It may even make you decide you don't like it after all, but at least it will be before you take on the study (and the debt associated with it)! I found that it really made my mind up on the age group I wanted to teach, which is secondary. Stroppy teenagers might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think I prefer that to a room full of under-10's!
4. Making your application
This is the final stage of the process, and can sometimes be the hardest part. Make sure you start this as early as you are able to, so you can refine the details and make sure you have included everything that is relevant to your success. If need be, contact the institution you would like to study at to get an idea of their preferences and exact requirements, so you can include these in the application (remember for the UK, most PGCE's are applied for through the GTTR, not direct to the institution). Get help from friends or family with the application if need be, and from teachers who helped in your placement. You may even be able to get a good reference from the school you volunteered at, which can help enormously. And good luck!!
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