Teaching: Positive role models

Helping other people achieve their full potential can be extremely rewarding, says Miranda Moore
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The Independent Online

In the real world, teachers have as little in common with Channel 4's deliquent Teachers as they do with Julie Walters determined principal in Ahead of the Class. Together these shows do give an important - if slightly obvious - message though: that for pupils to do well, their teachers must care about them, be imaginative enough to find individual and innovative ways of inspiring them, and be understanding and supportive while being a good role model.

In the classroom, the real heroes are people like Keith Davidson, whose efforts in championing the education of black and ethnic minority children in Tottenham led to a teaching award earlier this year. Icee Birch also won an award, prompting her head teacher at Oakington Manor School, Wembley, to comment: "Whether celebrating the life of Rosa Parks or reciting Maya Angelou poetry, she ensures our children feel proud - proud of their identity, proud of their heritage, proud of who they are and proud of what they will become. She is a walking, talking, positive role model."

It goes to show: if you put in the work, teaching can be extremely rewarding as you help others to achieve their full potential. It's certainly very varied and if you're sociable and enjoy talking to people, it could be the career for you. Where else would you find a more diverse and lively group of people to work with? And there's also the benefit of long holidays, even if they are offset by term-time working hours, which can be much longer than the 9am-4pm school day.

If you do decide to go into teaching, you'll spend time setting and marking homework and exams, writing reports, and planning and preparing lessons - which is where your imagination will really come into play - as well as teaching in class. The work will differ depending on whether you specialise in nursery age (where the emphasis is on developing children's social, communication and numeracy skills through play and creative activities), primary age (where you will have to cover a wide range of subjects), or secondary age (where teachers focus on one or two subjects areas and prepare several classes of varying ages for their exams). But for all ages, you will provide constructive feedback to pupils, maintain order and discipline, help pupils who are at risk of dropping out or underachieving, and provide advice and guidance. Patience, strong organisational skills and a healthy sense of what is achievable are vital; just don't go in thinking you're going to be the next Coach Carter.

So how do you get started? There are two main routes into teaching: a university degree in your chosen subject followed by a one-year full-time teacher training course known as a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE); or a teaching degree - either a Bachelor of Education or, in Scotland, a combined degree leading to a TQ - which takes between three and four-and-a-half years to complete. There is also a graduate training programme, which allows graduates to do the year's PGCE training while working in a school and earning a regular income.

The good news is that £6,000 bursaries are available to some PGCE trainees and "golden hellos" worth £4,000 are given to teachers when they qualify in a priority subject, such as maths, science and modern languages. So, as the adverts say - use your head: teach.

'You have to be fair and consistent'


I started teaching in St Lucia, which is where I'm from. I started in primary schools and moved into secondary education after doing a geography degree in Canada. Before I came to England four years ago I took a short break from teaching but I really missed it. I love working with young people so I find teaching very rewarding as a profession.

Warwick School for Boys is really mixed and so is the teaching staff. There's a large Asian population and many different languages are spoken. It's very different working in London than it is at home. There, the teacher is the authority in the class and the pupils defer to that. I had to learn to pace my lessons differently when I came here and to rethink a lot of teaching strategies. Really, it's the teacher's role to be of service, to stimulate and to encourage learning and I enjoy that.

You have to be fair and consistent at all times. You have to be very patient and understand even when you think you will never understand. Really, you just have to be a people person, care about children and have a feel for teaching. I try to learn about things that interest my pupils - football is a big thing at our school and computer games. If there is a programme on television that most of them will watch, I try to watch it.

It's important to have more teachers from all ethnic groups, because having a teacher from the same ethnic background can help kids to develop self confidence. I'm not saying that they cannot learn if the staff doesn't reflect their culture, but when it does, it really helps because they can see the school appreciates and understands where they are from. If someone from an ethnic minority is genuinely interested in teaching and they go into the profession, it can have nothing but a good effect.

Now, I want to do a counselling course because more and more there is a need for that in teaching, especially as a class tutor. I'm already a head of department and I would like to develop those leadership skills further, although I wouldn't want to be a headteacher as they rarely have time to teach. Really, I'd like to do anything that helps me to understand the kids better.

'It's great to see the kids learning'


I did other jobs before I got into teaching. When I left university, I decided to do voluntary work in the community and as part of that I worked with young offenders for six months. The teaching aspect started after that, when I was working with kids with learning disabilities in schools. One school liked what they saw and suggested that I did teaching training while teaching there. On the graduate training course you work within a school for the whole year and get paid by the school, but you also go to college every so often for lessons.

Watching other teachers, I thought more and more that it would be a good profession to go into: it is a stable job you can do for life but there are also many things you can do within education, such as working with children with special needs.

There were quite a lot of black and Asian people on my course, and I think it is important for kids to see them in the classroom, so they feel that they can be teachers or that they can go off to university and get a good job in life. At primary school, it's an age when they want to learn and it's good for them to think, Mr Samra's a teacher, so maybe I could be. But for most of these kids, having a male teacher is the most beneficial thing. In some schools I've worked in I've been the only male teacher, but many of the children come from one-parent families. They see you every day, so it's good for them to have someone else to turn to.

I have had my ups and downs as a teacher - there have been days when I've thought I could be doing something else - but I'm really enjoying it now. It's great to see the kids learning, and the appreciation from the children and their parents has been really good. It's so nice when a parent comes back and says, "thank you for all your hard work".

I feel at home in the workplace and quite a lot of my friends are teachers. It's good to have people you can talk to if you're going through a hard time, especially with teaching - people who can support you.

The school year's just beginning and I do get nervous when I start with a new class because I'm so used to the kids I had before. It's a new adventure for me and I look forward to it. I learn a lot from the kids. They read a lot and they watch television, and they ask a lot of questions! They're always amazed at the knowledge I have and I love that enthusiasm. In primary school, you teach one class and you can really see their progress over the year. If you give yourself to the job you get a lot of rewards.