The Big Picture
Tom works as a Physics Teacher at Notre Dame Secondary School in Sheffield, where he has been teaching for the last two years. Following a placement over the summer of his second year of university where he spent four weeks in a school, Tom discovered that teaching was something that he wanted to do upon graduation. He spent a year doing training on a SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) placement at the school where he now works and has spent the last year in his current position as a fully qualified teacher.
“You spend your day teaching a subject that you care about. We have a scheme of work which I generally adhere to, where you follow different topics, but how you go about teaching that is up to your own creative instincts. So if there’s something that helps and makes sense for you, then you can incorporate that into your lessons, so you have quite a lot of control of what your lessons look like, or at least I certainly do which I really enjoy.”
The Application Process
After deciding that teaching was something that he wanted to pursue, Tom applied to the same school where his placement was for a teacher training role.
“For training I had to write a personal statement, a sort of covering letter for my application explaining, well when I was applying to do training, why I wanted to train to be a teacher, why I thought I’d be good as a trainee teacher, what I wanted to learn from it. For being a teacher it was an application of what experience I have, why I want to work at that school, how I think my practice is good, how I think I could develop my practice as a teacher as well. So that was the sort of covering letter, and application forms where you have to fill in all your qualifications and your relevant experience and things like that. I then had interviews. For my job as a teacher the interview was a verbal interview and they also observed me teach, so they watched me teach a class. I had a planning exercise to do where they gave me a lesson and said plan what you would do to teach this.”
“Teaching is not standing at the front and going through a set of slides and saying this is what you need to know, because kids don’t learn that way. Sometimes it can feel like you’re juggling and spinning plates and you’re trying to do everything all at once but actually you sort of develop techniques to make it feel easier and you develop techniques to make your lessons go better and sort of find your own style.”
As well as the teaching aspect of things, a side of Tom’s role as a teacher that might be unexpected is the amount of time he spends learning about learning and reflecting on his own teaching style.
“Even though you’re the teacher, especially in your early career, you spend a lot of time learning as well, learning about pedagogy, learning about how students learn, quite a bit of psychology as well, and techniques that are highly regarded for helping students learn at a faster rate and getting quality learning as well. So you spend a lot of time studying your own practice and reflecting on what you do.”
The Physics Connection
Tom’s role obviously involves a lot of physics, but not necessarily degree level. Having the knowledge from his degree, however, enables Tom to provide students with real world context for the concepts that they are learning, which helps them to get a better grasp of the subject matter.
As well as this, being a teacher involves a perhaps unexpected amount of data analysis concerning test scores, attendance, and so on, to find trends and improve the learning experience for students.
“Google get into teaching physics or how to be a physics teacher, I think I remember doing that myself, and there’s all sorts of advice on there. The IOP have got advice on there for prospective teacher trainees and they also run a scholarship as well, so apply for that, ask them for advice. You can get mentors; if you google get into teaching, it’s through the department of education, they’ll assign you with a mentor who will call you up and talk to you about the application process, talk to you about your interests, they’ll even help you set up experience in a school which I would recommend as well. Make sure you go and spend just 2 weeks or a week in a school, observing a physics class and just see if you enjoy it, and then just apply.”
The Next Step
“With teaching again, people think you become a teacher and you stay a classroom teacher forever but there’s a lot of career progression as well.”
Tom very much enjoys his role as a teacher and particularly enjoys the social aspect of the job, getting to work with people and help students to understand topics that may be challenging conceptually, but he is not determined to stay in the classroom forever. For example, Tom could, within his current school, progress on to be Head of Department or Head of Year.
“You could also go into educational research, if you do a PGCE you sort of get a taste of that but you can go and research a part of education or develop a theory about how to teach an aspect of your subject or a teaching method and that’s really interesting as well, but definitely education is where I see myself staying for the long term.”