Ask the Graduate: Secondary School Teacher

RO Central Team - Friday, November 29, 2019
Posted 6 months ago


Day In The Life: Jade Collins (Secondary School Teacher )

Who am I? 

Hello everyone, I have recently just graduated (in June 2019) from my PGdipED (post graduate diploma in education) course at the University of Birmingham. This means that I am now two months in to my new qualified teacher year. I teach English at a secondary school in Chelmsley Wood called John Henry Newman Catholic College. I teach all year groups, so year 7 to year 11, which means my timetable is pretty full! Before I got into teaching, I studied English at the University of Birmingham for three years.

Best bits:

Getting to know pupils and helping pupils achieve greatness is the best part of my job. It is the best feeling knowing that you really are helping pupils get to where they want to be by pushing them to always try their very best. It is not only amazing seeing pupils thrive inside the classroom but it is also great when I see my pupils achieve extra-curricular excellence as well as academic excellence. The best part about my job is knowing that you are genuinely making a difference to people’s current lives and their future by teaching a subject you have a passion for and that is why I chose this profession. Another great part of my job, close to the best, is having my own name on a classroom door, it was definitely a moment I had to share on my Instagram story.

What to expect from a career in this role:

Everyday as a teacher is different – the pupils you see, the lessons you teach and the encounters you face are never the same. There are lots of highs and a few lows, as in every job, but the great thing about teaching is you can always put yourself in a pupil’s shoes as every person has gone through school, so you can make everything relatable. You need to be prepared to be a classroom teacher, a part-time agony aunt and the best time manager in the world.

A typical morning as me:

My mornings typically involve a lot of coffee. I arrive at school at around 7:30 each morning so that I can set up my classroom (this means get the PowerPoint ready to go, all the books handed out and all the handouts are cut up ready to give out). I then have a brief meeting every morning – these will cover different school issues, so we are always up to date with what is happening. At 8:45 I will have my first lesson; this differs every day so every start to my day is different depending on the class I am teaching. Lessons last an hour and we have two lessons before it is breaktime where I can sit with all the English teachers and chill out for 20 minutes before its period 3. By the time it gets to breaktime I am usually very hungry; a typical break time snack for me is chocolate and crisps to get me ready for 3 more hours of teaching.

A typical afternoon as me:

My afternoons typically involve a lot of coffee also. I will teach another two hours before I can have my lunch break, then it’s one more period before its basically home time (well after tutor). Lunch time is my favourite time of day because I get to catch up with everyone about their day and eat. We have 30 minutes for lunch, so I always bring my own lunch as there isn’t really any time to go out and grab food, but this saves me so much money! Again, my afternoon is very much dependent on the students I teach and how they are feeling by this point in the day. Afternoons are very unpredictable as a teacher because if a number of pupils in your class have had a bad lesson prior to yours, their mood and behaviour can reflect this – so afternoons are all about resilience and adaptability.

A typical ‘after school’ as me:

Teachers are allowed to leave school at 3:30 (so 30 minutes after the pupils) but very rarely does this happen. I like to get all my planning, printing and admin work done after school so that I am not stressing or running on a time limit when I come into school in the morning. We have a lot of meetings after school as well which usually consist of cookies, cake and hot chocolate so I don’t mind attending. Every Thursday after school I teach a sixth period to my year 11 class; this is basically a revision session to go over any misconceptions found in their exams (this time I provide the cookies and cake). There is the occasional big sweep of marking that has to take place after exams which I complete at school after 3pm. Once I am home, however, I am home and I do not check emails or do any work as this is my time and it is important to keep work life and home life separate, in my opinion.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my unpredictable life as an English teacher.


Questions and Answers

1: Do you have to study the subject you want to teach at university?

It depends which training route you go down – for example, for Teach First they can recruit you to teach any subject you studied at A level, whereas for most university based courses you usually have to study the subject you want to teach at degree level. Personally, for teaching at a secondary school, I would recommend studying the subject you want to teach at degree level as it means your subject knowledge would be much stronger which makes teaching the subject much easier!

2: Which training route is it better to follow, the PCGE course or one of the graduate teacher training programmes?Which do employers/head teachers prefer you to have completed?

Each training route offers different things so the training route you pick is completely dependent on what you want from a training provider. For example, I chose to do a PGDipEd in secondary English at the University of Birmingham because it provided 120 credits towards a masters, rather than the standard 60 a PGCE provides, which attracted me as I am now more likely to complete this masters as I only have to do one more assignment in the next 5 years to gain a masters in education. I also chose this course as you still have a great deal of support from the university and you have a set number of weeks at university to go over some training before you go on to your first placement. I also liked that you slowly build up your independent teaching hours on this course – so you will just keep adding hours to your time table as you progress through the course, so you have time to build on who you are as a teacher. If you are to go down the salaried route or Teach First, for example, you are given a pretty full timetable with all your own classes on your first day – this didn’t really appeal to me but I know lots of people that go down this route as the school you train at you complete your Newly Qualified Teacher year there too, so it takes away the stress of trying to find a job during your training year. So, in short, no training provider is better than another or preferred more as you get the same out of each just in different ways, you have to decide what will suit you!

3: Would you recommend teaching in a secondary school?

Yes – I really like teaching in a secondary school because you can teach others about a subject you are interested in. It is also great to see pupils progress in your classes. You also get to develop a lovely relationship with your pupils – it can be difficult at times as any job but the pros definitely outweigh any bad times.

4: Why did you choose to teach in secondary rather than primary school?

I completed 3 weeks work experience in a primary school and it just wasn’t for me as I felt like I was adopting more of a ‘motherly’ role than a teacher role. I also only want to teach English and at primary school you mostly have to teach a range of subjects. I also enjoy having conversations about how to get to universities, how important GCSEs are and just general chit chat with pupils but at primary school this does not have the same impact.

5: Is teaching as stressful as you hear reported?

I think the stress you experience depends on you as a person and the school you teach at. I do not find it stressful as I am organised so any marking deadlines we have I will always make sure I get this all done on a Saturday, so I am not stressed at work. I also plan my lessons quite far ahead – this means that I am not stressing about what I am teaching where. I also take everything pupils say to me with a pinch of salt, so any behaviour issues I deal with calmly, so this reduces stress also. I am also really lucky to be teaching at a school where we do not have tons of marking all the time and where everyone shares lessons and resources and things, so this reduces potential stress massively. I think teaching is as stressful as you make it – if you are organised and laid back in the classroom stress will be easy on you.

6: I have been helping out with a local youth group.Would this voluntary work be useful for a career in teaching or do I need to do more?

This is a great start definitely! You do need actual classroom experience – for mine I tutored using a voluntary tutor programme which you can find online. I went to school once a week for ten weeks near my house to teach pupils who could potentially fail their GCSEs. You do not have to do this though – you can just observe lessons for 2 weeks at a school (you have to have around 2 weeks classroom experience) but I personally would have found this a bit boring, so I tutored instead and this helped me find my teaching style early on.