Insights into teaching
We speak to those who can
Totaljobs spoke to seven teachers across the UK to find out what it’s really like to teach. From academies to comprehensive schools, trainees to assistant head teachers, we interviewed teachers in a wide range of positions and schools. We asked it all: the good as well as the bad, in order to provide a comprehensive report of the teaching profession.
Jump to a question:
- Why should I consider becoming a teacher?
- Do I have what it takes to become a teacher?
- How can I get into teaching?
- What are the downsides to being a teacher?
- How are teachers perceived in the UK?
- So is it really worth it?
Why should I consider becoming a teacher?
We asked teachers what they loved most about their job and why jobseekers should consider it as an option. One of the most cited reasons teachers enjoy teaching is the pupils themselves.
Assistant principal at Harris Academy in Peckham Sarah Findlater explains why she loves working with kids: “They are never boring and always make me see things in new ways. Those light bulb moments in the classroom where students really get something are just magical. Plus, kids are hilarious”.
Tom Starkey, supply English teacher in various schools, agrees: “The kids make me laugh. It’s as simple as that. You have to act the hard case at points but I spend a lot of my time smiling”. Sebastian Burrows, deputy head of humanities and subject leader for geography at Milton Keynes Academy, revels in helping his pupils grow: “I enjoy helping students achieve; academically of course, but also in less measurable aspects such as gaining the confidence to speak in front of others”.
Sebastian points out another important factor in his love of being a teacher – the perks: “As facetious as it sounds, the holidays and pension are amazing”. Tom also approves: “On a more pragmatic level (which strangely doesn’t get talked about much), teaching is an incredibly steady job with a comparatively decent rate of pay. I’ve been a teacher for 12 years – I’ve never been made redundant, I’ve been able to pay the mortgage and I’ve never had to worry that if something did happen, I wouldn’t be able to find work fairly quickly”.
Career progression is also an advantage of teaching, as many teachers go on to more senior positions within schools. Phil Stock, assistant head teacher at Greenshaw High School, tells us his story: “My first job was as an NQT in a school in Surrey. In my second year I assumed responsibility for A Level Literature and set up a new Critical Thinking A level course.
After three years, I moved to another school as second in department. I took on some pastoral responsibility as head of years 12 and 13. I left after four years to take up the role of head of English at my current school in Sutton. After three years as head of department, I became director of English, associate assistant head teacher and then just over two years ago, assistant head teacher”.
As well as being a steady and ambitious job, teaching is often described as rewarding. As Jo Morgan, teacher and lead practitioner of mathematics at Glyn School Epsom, puts it: “I feel like I’m doing something meaningful and important. I get a feeling of satisfaction every time a lesson goes well. I have the opportunity to be creative. I am intellectually challenged”.
Jo never expected she would be leaving her successful banking career: “One day my company offered me the opportunity to give a presentation at an Inner London school about careers in banking. When the day came, I nervously delivered my careers talk to a classroom of scary-looking boys. They initially came across as grumpy and disinterested, but after my talk they came out with the most amazing questions.
I was blown away. They were imaginative, insightful, ambitious… It was a life-changing moment. Afterwards I felt a buzz of adrenaline, a huge sense of satisfaction from successfully engaging and interacting with these teenagers. I wanted more”.
Do I have what it takes to become a teacher?
When we asked what skills teachers need most in order to excel, patience was certainly a recurring answer. Tom says it best: “Patience. Lots of it. Massive, huge great dollops of the stuff.”
James Sansom, design and technology teacher at Loxford School of Science and Technology, explains the importance of resilience. “You need to be resilient. Never take anything personally. More often than not the students never mean it”. Sebastian agrees, stating that teachers need an “impenetrable façade”.
Tom is of the opinion that no teacher skills sets are and should be alike: “I don’t think there is a distinct set of skills to become a great teacher. I think that’s one of the advantages of the job – you bring your own strengths to it”.
One personality trait teachers do agree is essential is an undying love for your subject. “I became a teacher of Drama as I wanted to pass on my love and passion for the subject”, says Verity Balcombe, trainee teacher at Finchley Catholic High School. Tom became a teacher for similar reasons: “My subject’s English. I love English. I love language, poetry, words. I wanted to see if I could get other people to love it too”.
Overall, most interviewees insisted that teachers need to enter the profession because of their passion for the job. It is certainly a case of ‘when you know, you know’. As Sarah puts it, “Make sure you are getting into the job for the right reasons – to improve the life chances of young people. As long as it is all about the students then you will never grow tired of the job”.
Jo started teaching as she felt it was the right thing to do: “My social conscience nagged at me – I wanted to do something meaningful with my life”.
Verity joined the profession for similar reasons, citing a remarkable teacher in her youth as her inspiration: “I wanted to feel like I was making a difference. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to teach and to help students grow. You always remember that one teacher in school who inspired you and helped you to develop your skills and interests and I one day hope to be that teacher for many students”.
How can I get into teaching?
The teachers we interviewed had taken different routes into teaching. The most popular option was a PGCE degree. Jo shares her experience: “I did my PGCE course at King’s College London. The course involved some university-based training, two academic assignments and two school placements. During the school placements I gained experience teaching lessons and I was assessed against a series of teaching standards”.
The Teach First programme offers another path into teaching. James is certainly an advocate: “Teach First is an intense teacher training programme that has a 6 week training course, at the end of which you are parachuted into a school.
I did not possess outstanding GCSE or A Level results but did have a wealth of life and work experience which really put me ahead of the pack. I applied for the Teach First programme due to not being able to afford to support myself on the traditional PGCE programme. Teach First afforded a salary and paying for my qualifications. It was excellent for me as it allowed me to jump into the deep end and deal with the day-to-day running of the job instantly”.
Verity opted for a third option: “I am now currently on a SCITT course. It is an immersive programme and you spend most of the year in one school, apart from a 6 week placement. It is a great way to train because you work on the job, the students see you as a permanent member of staff and you get a lot of responsibilities which will inevitably prepare you for your future career”.
Many teachers recommend trying out a teaching assistant position before starting any degrees, in order to be sure of your decision. Tom shares his story: “I was a teaching assistant before I became a teacher. I think that helped me to get the lay of the land and it meant that I could see, first-hand, what was going on in schools. It really helped make my mind up about whether I wanted to be a teacher or not. Then it was pretty straightforward – degree, teacher training and before I knew it, I was stood in-front of a class”.
Read more about teaching:
- “Why teaching is the best job I’ve ever had”
- “5 steps to get you from trainee to teacher“
- “Reasons to become an RE teacher“
What are the downsides to being a teacher?
Many teachers mention marking as an unavoidable but frustrating part of teaching. When asked what he dislikes about his job, James says, “Marking pressures, as students now have to respond to feedback which takes more time and I can’t plan my lessons to the highest of standards”. Sebastian clearly agrees: “Marking is incredibly boring”.
Scrutiny is also inescapable as a teacher. “In teaching your work is subject to constant scrutiny – it takes a bit of getting used to. I am often held accountable for things that are outside my control,” explains Jo.
Sometimes, the constant inspections can be extremely difficult to deal with, as in James’ case: “The biggest challenge I have faced to date was dealing with HMI Ofsted when I had feedback on a year 8 lesson which left me contemplating whether this was the right career choice for me. I felt like I was cut to the ground and every part of my lesson was dismantled”.
Alongside marking and scrutiny, pupils’ bad behaviour is often a source of distress for teachers. “If you find yourself in a place that doesn’t have their act together regarding behaviour, it can be a mighty struggle and even make you doubt the validity of what you’re doing,” says Tom.
Without a doubt, the most cited downside to being a teacher is the incredibly heavy workload. “Time is the hardest thing, and I imagine that any other teacher would agree. There is enormous pressure to do an awful lot in a small amount of time,” says Sebastian. Jo adds, “If it weren’t for school holidays the workload would be totally unsustainable”.
In fact, teachers insist that the only way to deal with the workload is to choose to switch off at the end of the working day… which is easier said than done. “Now I am at the point where I am happy to leave work at work and not strive for perfection with everything, because that simply isn’t sustainable”, says Sebastian. Tom agrees, “Teaching is one of those professions where it’s very easy for it to become all-consuming. But you have to go out of your way to keep something for yourself or you risk burning out”.
How are teachers perceived in the UK?
Regrettably, many teachers agree there is a general trend of under-appreciation towards teachers in the UK. “There is an overwhelming feeling of non-appreciation, mostly from the students, which can really wear you down,” says Sebastian. James agrees, “On the surface it comes across as easy to teach. As the old saying goes, ‘those who can’t do, teach’”.
The hours and long holidays in particular are often a reason for the disrespect. However, Verity busts the myth: “A lot of people say that teaching is easy as ‘you get so many holidays and work 9-3’. The reality is I haven’t worked harder in my life. I am in my training year and most days I start at 7 a.m. and work until 9 p.m.”. James confirms her statement: “If you add up all the hours I do a week and multiply throughout the year, it turns out I get 3 and half weeks holiday a year”.
Fortunately it seems that this negative perception is mainly prevalent in the media, and most people do appreciate the profession. As Tom puts it, “It sometimes seems like certain sections of the media and certain politicians do their best to put to try and put the profession down. But when I’ve actually talked to people about teachers and the teaching profession, more often than not, there is an abundance of support and respect for what we do”.
So is it really worth it?
Overall these interviews taught us that there may be just as many downsides to teaching as there are upsides. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 73% of newly qualified teachers have considered quitting. However, all seven teachers totaljobs interviewed firmly agreed that their passion for the job and the children completely outweighed the pressures and negative perception.
“Teaching is hard work, but it is an extremely rewarding job and I love it,” says Verity. Sarah agrees entirely: “It is a tough job, there is no getting away from that. It can be hard work and relentless at times, but it is so worth it”.
As for Jo, she would not trade it for any other job: “Ten years ago I would never have pictured myself as a maths teacher but now, I wouldn’t change it for the world”.
Read more about teaching:
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