I want to teach – where do I start?

I’ve been working for Thames Teachers since June 2015, recruiting for school support staff – many of whom are seeking experience ahead of applying to a teacher training programme. When I’m interviewing candidates, I’m often asked about which training pathway I took and what I did to gain experience before applying.

Gaining experience ahead of application…

Competition wasn’t quite so fierce when I applied, so expectations of prior experience weren’t quite as high as they are now – but there was still an assumption that I’d proactively seek relevant experiences. During my final year studying, I contacted local secondary schools, offering my services as a music specialist. During reading week I volunteered in a music department, shadowing and assisting with the delivery of activities.

I also looked into courses offered by local education institutions. I’d seen one that offered a free three-day “introduction to teaching” taster session. It was a helpful format, with talks delivered by recently qualified teachers and a short school placement, devising and delivering activities. It was an interesting experience which boosted my CV.

Eight days of experience across two placements doesn’t seem like a vast amount – nowadays it is assumed that candidates will have many weeks of experience, or even a full academic year. Voluntary experience is fine, but paid experience is preferred.

I’d recommend gaining as much experience as possible in a support role. Many schools are seeking teaching assistants, learning mentors and cover supervisors – experience in any of these capacities will look great on an application, and will also offer a real insight into school life. If you have other commitments, a bit of day-to-day supply would be a useful way in, too.

What route do I take?

There are numerous training pathways – below I’ve outlined three of the most common.

I chose a PGCE. When I trained a few years ago, the grants were higher and the fees were lower; it wasn’t well paid, but economically viable. Currently, with cuts to funding and increased fees, it would be a struggle – it’s a full-time commitment, so you’re unlikely to be able to supplement your income with additional work.

That said, it’s a well-respected qualification which will enable you to teach across the UK and internationally. The course lasts one academic year and usually involves 24 weeks of school placements (across a minimum of two schools), alongside attending lectures and seminars, and writing essays. If your overheads are low and you think you’d be able to make it work, it’s worth considering.

An alternative pathway is Schools Direct. Again this route lasts for an academic year, with an on-the-job training focus – the school takes candidates on as unqualified teachers. This route has the advantage that it can be salaried (depending on your work experience) and often the school may offer to keep trainees on once the programme is complete. Whilst this pathway grants Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), it doesn’t always entitle trainees to the PGCE qualification – so you may be limiting yourself to jobs in England and Wales.

A third option is the education charity Teach First. Generally, they recruit highly academic graduates – a 2:1 from a good university is expected. This is a two-year programme, after which you will have a PGCE with QTS – so you’ll have the opportunity to teach abroad afterwards, if you desire.

Teach First has a great support network and partners with many businesses across the country. If, on completion, you decide teaching isn’t for you, there will be a wealth of other opportunities available.

Hopefully the above information is helpful. Thanks for reading and good luck!

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