When I was in the sixth-form at school I helped Year 7 pupils with literacy and numeracy. During the second year of my chemistry degree I had the opportunity to go into a school once a week and help sixth-form students with chemistry. In both cases I enjoyed being a mentor and got a buzz from seeing others grasp something I had taught them.
After my degree I decided to work in the chemical industry but didn’t enjoy it and the idea to teach began to take shape. I went back to my old school for a few days and observed lessons, spent some time with small groups of pupils and talked to trainee teachers about their experiences, before I made up my mind to train to teach – I have never looked back.
Which route did you choose to qualify?
I chose to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Secondary Education at Bangor University. One of the most important aspects of this year was getting advice from more experienced teachers. I had support on placement from school based mentors and the tutors at Bangor University provided an insight into teaching which was invaluable.
How easy did you find it to get your first job?
Currently there is a shortage of chemistry teachers so finding a job wasn’t difficult. I was offered a number of interviews and was successful at the second one.
What does your job involve?
I teach biology, physics and chemistry to Year 7-9 (aged 11-14) and GCSE chemistry to Year 10-11 (aged 14-16). I also have a Year 7 tutor group where I have a pastoral role, supporting pupils with issues such as homework, lateness and bullying, liaising with other teachers if necessary.
As I am a newly qualified teacher (NQT) in my induction year I have a reduced timetable which gives me more free periods during the week. All teachers in state schools have a 10 per cent reduction of their teaching timetable free for planning, preparation and assessment and as an NQT I get an extra 10 per cent for professional development. Bury Council provide training evenings for NQTs from a range of schools in the area and it is great to exchange experiences with other teachers in a similar situation. Each half term my school based mentor will observe me teach a few lessons.
The biggest difference to my PGCE year is the extra responsibility for assessing and monitoring the progress of all my science classes, to ensure they are on track to meet curriculum targets.
What hours do you work?
I get into school at 8am to prepare for the pupils arriving at 8:50am. School finishes at 3:40pm but I usually stay at school until around 6pm. I try to get most of my preparation done at school but do sometimes bring some work home to ensure my weekends are free. It gets easier as you build up a collection of lesson resources.
What skills or qualities do you think teachers need?
The key skills are patience and flexibility – a lesson that works with one class won’t necessarily with another and you have to adapt to different learning styles. Time management is vital – if you don’t work efficiently you will not achieve a good work life balance and you will rapidly tire yourself out!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
To a certain extent you are your own boss and as long as you are teaching the curriculum you can plan lessons how you want. Working with young people is very rewarding, particularly the penny dropping moment when you see them finally understand something you have taught them. I also love working with other like minded teachers who are passionate about science and passing this on to young people.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
This was probably my first teaching placement on my PGCE where I had a disengaged group of Year 10 pupils, who were not interested in learning about science. I had to be persistent and really put into practice all the teaching skills I had been taught. Although difficult it can be even more rewarding to see a class like this begin to enjoy learning.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
One of the best things about the job is the variety of routes forward; I could consider climbing the ladder either on the academic (Head of Science) or pastoral (Head of Year) side or take on extra responsibilities (and extra pay) such as for literacy and numeracy across the school. I would also like to use my PGCE to teach abroad.
What are your tips for others considering teaching?
Teaching is not a decision to be taken lightly – perhaps ask as I did to spend time in your old school and make sure it is right for you. It is never too late to go into teaching – there was a huge range of ages on my PGCE and many had spent years in the science industry and wanted a change. If you are passionate about your subject and enjoy working with young people it could be for you.