Secondary School English Teacher
June 2021: A day in the life of a Secondary School English Teacher
As getting into teaching goes, I probably have taken the most unconventional route possible. I had no intense desire to become a teacher as a young person, no sudden epiphany at sixth form and no sudden discovery at university. If anything, I actively fought the idea of becoming a teacher. As several of my friends enrolled onto primary teaching degrees at the age of eighteen, my firm response was ‘teaching is not for me.’
During sixth form, I could not have had less of an idea about what to study at university, or in fact, whether I should go to university at all. I distinctly remember scrolling through the alphabet of courses on UCAS. I only got as far as A. Applied Social Sciences. That would do. The problem when you do this is, you sign up to a course you have no idea about at a university you have never heard of. Pressing fast forward on the next four years, I dropped out of university, got a full-time job, hated the job, re-applied to university, had several part-time jobs, volunteered, and generally lived a life saying ‘YES!’ to every opportunity and worrying about time later.
Whilst conducting interviews for my dissertation, I accidentally started working in one of the schools for a few hours a week and when leaving university, they offered me a full-time job as a teaching assistant. I threw myself into everything at the school. Because of this, a Deputy Head Teacher noticed the work I was doing and asked if I would be interested in becoming a teacher without going back to university. Yes please! From here, I was enrolled on an ‘Assessment Only’ route into teaching: two years of unqualified teaching whilst being supported by the school with a 12-week intensive assessment period. English felt like my natural subject and so, here I am.
You’ll be forgiven if you’re concerned you’ve learnt nothing about the ‘Day in the Life of an English Teacher’ yet. However, knowing that there are different routes into teaching is important. Yes, I had a degree at the time, but I have met other teachers who didn’t and have completed a degree along the way. There are so many opportunities out there.
Pressing fast forward again, I’ve been working as a fully qualified English Teacher for the past four years. Teaching, much like most jobs, has its ups and downs, but on the whole, is so rewarding. If you are interested in helping others, love being busy and don’t mind a challenge, teaching could be for you.
Mornings are usually a hectic mix of finding a photocopier that works, meeting colleagues in staff briefings and getting your tutor group kitted out for the day. Just like it is for you, an English teacher’s day is dictated by the bell and particularly in secondary schools, it is a continuous cycle of different year groups, different texts and different students. Getting to know so many different young people is a huge perk and is probably my favourite part of the job.
What can be quite difficult in teaching is the number of hours you need to plan and prepare for, as well as the marking (particularly in a heavy writing subject like English). On average, teachers are given around 2 or 3 hours in the school week to complete everything that needs doing to be ready to stand in front of a class. In that time, there are around 23 lessons to plan, prepare and mark whilst also consulting other staff in the department, manage any behaviour logs and rewards, make phone calls home, photocopy, report any safeguarding issues, make displays and tidy classrooms (this list could definitely go on!) As you many have already guessed, unless you have magical powers, you are going to have to work outside of the 8.30am-3pm school day. Have a think about the teachers you have come across, particularly the ones who always try to make lessons exciting. Each resource was made and created with their students in mind. Lots of the resources, prizes and treats will have been bought out of their wages. I’m sometimes wandering around Tesco with ‘Year 7 sweets’ on my shopping list. Getting into teaching because you think it will be easier, is not a good idea. Getting into teaching because you want to make a difference, is a wonderful idea.
Teachers are rewarded with so many things: the gratitude of students and parents when you help someone achieve their potential, going on wildly adventurous school trips, the feeling of making a difference and of course, longer holidays than any other job you can probably find. The intensity of the school term is most certainly made easier knowing you will get well deserved time away from the classroom. Of course, most school holidays have a little unfinished marking, an extra revision class and new topics and lessons to plan, but if you enjoy the subject you teach and supporting the students in your classes, it doesn’t feel like too much of a chore.
My advice to you would be to get involved RIGHT NOW in as many opportunities as possible. You never know where they might take you. If you are interested in teaching, then be prepared to work hard, but perhaps have one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. And if teaching is not on your radar (much like it wasn’t for me), don’t forget that it will never be too late to become a teacher. There will always be a route for you wherever life may take you in the meantime. Do get in touch if you have questions, I’m happy to answer!
Your questions answered!
I want to do a PGCE course as I want to become a secondary school teacher. Did you do a PGCE? What does it consist of and how much is it subject specific? I would like to teach Science.
It’s a great question! I didn’t actually do a PGCE. I completed something called an ‘Assessment Only’ route into teaching. I was already employed at a school and they supported me to complete this. Rather than going back to university, you complete the course on the job and then undertake a 12-week observation period. During this time, the university observe lots of your lessons. What’s great about this is you already know the school and the students you are working with. On the downside, you miss out on engaging with other people who are joining the teaching profession.
From my experience, you don’t always have to have a degree in the specific subject you would like to teach. I have a social policy degree, but I teach English. It would be worth doing some more research into what the specific requirements are to teach Science.
What’s the best thing about teaching for you?
The best thing about teaching for me is getting to know the young people I work with. As a teacher, it is easy to get lost in the everyday logistics of the job and forget the influence you have over so many people. I try to keep one eye on the subject and passing exams and the other on the individuals in front of me: who are they? What do they enjoy? How can I make their life a little easier or more enjoyable? On an average day, I teach around 130 young people. Each of them has their own quirks, hobbies and lives outside the classroom. It’s important that I try to know each of them as individuals and is most definitely my favourite part of the job. I learn so much from them too
Was it easy re-applying to university? How did you know it was the right decision for you to go back to uni?
When I decided to leave university and re-apply, I already knew the UCAS deadline was in January and that if I wanted to start again, I needed to get organised. I don’t think I was completely sure if it was the right decision at the time, but I re-applied anyway as a back up in case I changed my mind. In the 9 months I was out of university, I got a full-time job which I really hated. I met some lovely people, but I did not enjoy the work. I think I felt more comfortable going back to university as it was closer to home, I had tried a full-time job that I didn’t enjoy and I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world. University felt like the place to start that journey again
Do you have plans to become a headteacher? What does it take to go from teacher to headteacher?
I have no plans to become a headteacher. Although I would consider myself to be aspirational and wanting to succeed in my career, I also love my classroom and the students I teach. Becoming a headteacher (or so I imagine), can take you away from teaching and leave you with logistics, spreadsheets and lots of meetings. My heart lies in meeting young people, trying to make a difference each day and being creative.
I imagine going from teacher to headteacher takes real drive and determination. I think most headteachers will have taken on extra roles within the school e.g. being the head of a department or being an assistant head, before they applied for a headship. I also imagine those who become headteacher haven’t achieved this on their first attempt. All headteachers will have to be resilient.