The rewards may be attractive, but teaching is about more than just the money, says Emma Jayne Jones

Those who can do, those who can't teach. Or so the saying goes. Yet far from being a back-up plan for those who don't make it in their chosen career, a survey by the market research company FDS shows that 71 per cent of teachers see their job as a vocation. Only one in 10 admitted they entered the profession because they didn't know what else to do.

Kate Jackson, 24, from Birmingham, is a maths teacher and never wanted to be anything else. It was in her blood. Her parents are both teachers and so is her sister. "I love every day because no day is ever the same," she says. "The most rewarding thing is when you know that you've made a difference to a child's life. This could be them achieving beyond their expectations or by a simple, genuine thank you."

Everybody remembers a good teacher and they have the power to inspire and enthuse. Yet Jackson admits it is not always easy. "It is a challenge trying to teach de-motivated, disaffected pupils who don't put education high on their list of priorities. Plus, I didn't realise how much more there is than teaching your subject. You also end up being a social worker, parent, confidante, nurse, law enforcer and psychiatrist."

There are still many misunderstandings surrounding the profession and regular nine to fivers often think teachers have an easy deal. One of the best bonuses of being a teacher is the long holidays - up to 12 weeks a year. Yet Jackson is quick to point out that as well as travel being consistently more expensive during these times they are unable to pick and choose when they take a break. She says teachers' schedules aren't quite as flexible as many people think.

"The biggest misperception is that our holidays are our own, that we have no planning and preparation to do and that when school finishes at 3.30pm it is the end of our working day, too."

Jackson's mother, Sandra, has been a teacher for over 20 years and agrees that people seem to think teaching is an undemanding role. "People know that dealing with young people today is very difficult but few understand that it's a job you take home with you - it doesn't end when the bell goes," she says. "With the introduction of exam expectations and league tables there is a much greater pressure on teachers to meet higher and sometimes impossible targets."

However, she is happy to see her daughter joining the profession. "Two of my three children are teachers. They went into teaching with their eyes open and both love what they are doing. New teachers need to be realistic - you can't expect to know everything straight away. Don't be afraid to ask for support."

The other most common false impression is that teaching is a poorly paid job. Not so. From September 2007 the starting salaries for newly qualified teachers will be £20,133 in England and Wales and £24,168 in inner London. These starting salaries are actually higher than perceivably well paid industries such as accounting or engineering. Rising on a sliding scale set by the Government, teachers gain points for extra responsibilities that translate into higher pay, with head teachers earning as much as £104,000.

There are a number of ways to train as a teacher but the most popular is to complete a one year postgraduate course (PGCE). You must be educated to degree level and also have gained at least a C grade GCSE in maths, English and science. For senior school teachers your degree will need to be in a related subject. After this you will be a "newly qualified teacher" and complete an induction year where you will be fully operating but offered extra support and reviews.

As well as job security and guaranteed earnings, for a number of undersubscribed subjects the government offers "golden hellos" which can be as much as £5,000. In addition to this there is a strong pension plan and if you live in London you can qualify for key worker housing which helps you buy your own home. Jackson believes that although these aspects are appealing, they shouldn't be the reason you enter the profession.

"The financial incentives really help but if you want to go into teaching for the money think again - you've got to want to do it," she says. "It's a vocation."

For more information about training to become a teacher visit www.tda.gov.uk

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