How to choose an education course leading to a career in teaching
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The Independent Online

"My mother was a primary school teacher", says Mary Read, Head of the Education Department at University of Hertfordshire, "and my sister always wanted to be a primary teacher, so it seemed a natural progression for me too. I was never really sure myself, but a dull office job in the six months after leaving school (before I was old enough to go to college) was enough to convince me that I needed something more fulfilling than the nine to five drudge! I have now been a teacher for 30 years and I can't imagine anyone wanting anything else. Once I started my course, at what was then a teacher training college, I became totally committed. Although the course was hard work, it was deeply satisfying."

Why be a teacher?

"Simply because it's the best job in the world! I didn't set out to be a head of a university education department, but I learned that you can develop the aspects of the job that are suitable for your abilities. You have to know about yourself. It was very important to me to do something I felt was worthwhile."

What do you study on an education course?

At the University of Hertfordshire we offer a course which prepares you to meet national standards for teacher qualification. We give people an insight into the skills and attitudes they need to be a successful teacher. There are four distinct routes to suit personal needs:

* A three–year undergraduate BEd scheme for primary teachers, for people without a degree.<<br/>* Post graduate programmes for people with degrees in a range of subject who want to train as primary or secondary teachers. One year full–time or two years part–time.
* A flexible route for post graduate primary teachers (new from September 2002). This is a web–based course with placements.
*A graduate teacher programme, employment based, working in a school during the year–long training.

What do you study on an education course?

They are partly campus based and partly placement. Lectures, workshops and seminars in the university and practice out in the classroom, taking advantage of our successful partnership with local schools. There are no traditional exams. Trainees will be assessed right from the beginning and particularly in the placements. But don't think that the course is going to be any easier without a formal examination! People can still fail to demonstrate that they meet the standards required in the classroom. Sometimes, this is because they (or their tutors) realise that the job is not for them. Placements can be harder than exams and revision. You have to reach a performance level and maintain it over a period of time.

How can I decide whether teaching is for me?

The first step is to go out and get some experience in a school! Approach a local school, I am sure that they will very helpful. Tell the head teacher that you are considering an education course and would like to arrange some work experience so that you'll be able to see if you like the working environment. You need a broad education. Maths and English are essential.

What career opportunities are available to graduates?

Despite what you may hear, the starting salary in teaching compares very well with other graduate opportunities. Teaching is the biggest graduate employer in the UK and a salary of around £14,000 is usual. Teaching is not badly paid. It is true to say that salaries might not compare to a few high flyers in other careers, but an ambitious graduate can be in a post of significant responsibility in a primary or secondary school in five years or even less.

What type of person enjoys teaching?

Someone who likes variety and not routine. Someone who likes a level of autonomy and who enjoys a challenge. Teaching is a valuable qualification you can use anywhere in this country or abroad. You can do it full–time or part–time. Unlike most careers, teaching can be adjusted to suit your own lifestyle. A wide range of people take the teaching course at the University of Hertfordshire, from 18 year olds straight from school, to people who want to change careers. These trainees include former nurses, company directors and people who have had highly successful business careers. The age ranges from 18 up to people in their mid–50s.

"I began as a primary school teacher", Mary Read adds. "I was a deputy head for five years before moving on to work as a member of an education advisory team and then to a university lecturer's post. I came to UH for a change, as a lecturer in English and eventually became Head of the Education Department. My advice to anyone thinking about becoming a teacher is always be honest, whether you are teaching adults or five years olds. Never try to claim to know about things you don't. This is a wonderfully worthwhile career. No day is ever the same. Just ask any teacher!"