“I enjoy working with people from different backgrounds,” says Alistair Dixon, 27, who teaches Spanish, German and French at Coombe School in Surrey. “In the classroom, those differences don’t matter.
It dawns on you that you could inspire somebody else. I could have a student who, in a few years, remembers my Spanish lessons and feels like they meant something.”
These words will resonate with teachers everywhere. While there are many reasons to choose a classroom career, the rewards are more than financial. As Dixon says: “You get out what you put in – especially when it comes to the kids.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, one of the largest teachers’ unions, describes teaching as “a career for those who are committed to doing the very best for young people, supporting them to achieve their full potential.”
Pay and conditions reflect the importance of and respect for the profession. “Young people are entitled to be taught by those who are recognised and rewarded as highly-skilled professionals and have working conditions that enable them to focus on their core role of teaching and learning,” says Keates.
UK teachers begin on an average salary of £23,010, with those in inner London starting on £27,000. These figures compare favourably with average starting salaries for other graduate jobs, which range between £17,720 and £23,335. Further down the line, classroom teachers earn an average of £34,400 a year. It isn’t difficult to see why Lin Hinnigan, CEO of the Teaching Agency, believes there’s “never been a better time to teach”.
“There are lots of opportunities for progression early on too,” says Dixon, adding that these career development opportunities may not always be based on your tenure, but on “how good a teacher you are and how ambitious”.
He is a case in point: just two years into teaching, Dixon is moving into a role as head of Spanish.
“Compared to friends who graduated at the same time as me, I have progressed faster up the ladder in terms of responsibility and management,” Dixon notes. “And, because languages are a shortage area in teaching, I got a bursary to train as a teacher.”
Impressive bursaries and scholarships are still available for high quality graduates. Those starting Initial Teacher Training in 2012 can apply for tax-free bursaries of up to £20,000.
Nothing is guaranteed, but as a trained teacher you currently enjoy good employment prospects. Latest data shows that nine out of 10 newly qualified teachers who want to teach found teaching jobs in the first 12 months.
Most of all, teachers talk of the variety of the job. “You have to think on your feet,” says Dixon. “Even when you’ve planned a lesson carefully, you don’t know how a class is going to react, so you have to be able to adapt. Added to that, the curriculum is always changing, and there are always new ideas and approaches – there isn’t just one way to teach, there are lots, and you can copy, adapt, share. That creates a sense of collaboration within the department – it’s everyone working together as a team.”
It’s the same with training, which is frequently available. When a member of staff at Coombe School receives continuous professional development (CPD), they are invited to share what they have learnt with other teachers in their department. Dixon says: “As a newly qualified teacher, that was particularly great, because not only did I benefit from other teachers’ experiences, I was able to tell teachers that were far more experienced than me something new.”
“Everyone in the school is working towards the same goals and supporting each other,” Dixon concludes. “That works brilliantly for everyone.”
Case study: Sarah Davy
Sarah Davy is a science teacher at Rivers Academy in West London. She studied pharmacology at Newcastle University.
I loved science. I was passionate about it. However, I never really made the connection that it was something I wanted to teach.
Before I came into teaching, I thought everything was planned out – that teachers were told ‘lesson one will be on cells’ and so on. I now realise how much freedom you have to explore and throw your own personality into your teaching.
Sometimes in lessons – particularly with Years 7 and 8 – you will be telling a child something for the first time. They have never heard it before. For example, they might have no concept of the planets, or what gravity is. You just don’t get that in other jobs. I didn’t expect the long hours in the first year. It’s hard work. But if you put in the effort, I feel like I’ve been rewarded with my classes in what they’ve given back to me.
Science is an explorative subject. Within a 50-minute lesson, students can go from knowing absolutely nothing about, say, the way rocks are made, to thinking, actually, I do know how sedimentary metamorphic and igneous rock are made.
They might not know it in much detail – but they get to leave with what they do know, and I think that does a lot for their self-esteem.
I mentor a trainee teacher in the school. It’s really nice to get together to discuss how school is going.
We can help each other. I have my own mentor too, who is the deputy head of the school. We have meetings every two weeks where we discuss my progress and things I need help with, and we work through them together.
There’s a support network within the school.
I hope my students leave my classes feeling as though they’ve understood the work, as well as enjoying the day and the practical work they’ve undertaken.
My first day
Clare Benton left a career in computing to become a maths teacher. She works at Greenford High School in West London.
“Suddenly, it was my responsibility to make sure children not only learnt but also enjoyed my subject. That was exciting, but there was fear too. I remember thinking; will they listen? Will I be able to do this? It’s a fascinating journey, learning how to communicate knowledge.
For me, teaching is about helping students feel secure. On my first day, I wanted to show them all that they can do maths, even if they think they can't.
It’s about making sure they’ve learnt – and to do that, you need to reflect on your practice.”