Case study: Science teacher

Teaching can be the most rewarding and fun career of all, says Emma Bartley
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The Independent Online

Science graduate required for highly rewarding job with excellent prospects and extensive holidays. No two days will be the same - and you'll have money to burn".

This wasn't the actual advert that Julian Woodward responded to, but it's a fair representation of his job as a newly qualified chemistry teacher at Notley High School in Essex. Yes, a teacher. No, that part about the cash wasn't a mistake.

"I burned money with the school's after-school science club," Woodward says. "Obviously it was just pretend money, but it was fun. Keen Year 7 and 8 students come along and do fun practicals you might do with a GCSE class. We were looking at the different ways paper would burn if you soaked it in water, ethanol and a mixture of the two."

On a typical day, Woodward arrives at school at 7.30am. He marks homework and prepares lesson plans. Then most of his day is spent explaining polymers, isotopes, alkalis and so on, until he leaves at around 4pm. "I do go in pretty early," he admits.

Woodward hsan't always leapt out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning in order to get to work. Teaching is his second job - when he first left Coventry University, he went straight into a job in industry, doing chemical analysis.

However, another option was emerging. His girlfriend was a teacher, and he went with her on a school trip to Austria. In the land of The Sound Of Music, he had a Maria Von Trapp-style epiphany: working with kids was a whole lot more rewarding than standing around in a lab coat.

He still wasn't sure teaching was the job for him though. "I'd considered it occasionally at university, but I thought you had to be a really special person to be a teacher."

In spite of his reservations, Woodward contacted the school and asked to sit in on some lessons. "Watching people talk about my subject inspired me. It was a good school, and they made it look easy!"

Students going straight into teaching from university will normally study full-time for a teacher-training qualification (usually a postgraduate certificate in education - a PGCE). His experience meant he got a graduate teaching programme (GTP) position at the school and was able to work three days a week.

After a year on the GTP, Woodward was a fully qualified teacher and got a permanent job at Notley. The school offers triple-award science GCSE, so he teaches chemistry as a separate subject. "It's such a fun subject because you can do loads of great practicals," he enthuses.

As for the money and prospects, they aren't bad either. While teachers do work during school holidays, they still get plenty of time off. Starting salaries are around £20,000 a year, and there are opportunities to earn more.

Woodward can't hand out actual cash to his students, but he can make a much more lasting investment in their lives. "Even the badly behaved classes go away from my lessons having learned something," he says. "That makes it worthwhile."