Teachers have quite a place in our lives. We all remember the best teachers who brought out the best in us and showed us something of our true potential, who believed in us and who became trusted adults. On the other hand, we also remember those teachers who terrified us and made us feel negatively about their subjects, perhaps to the point of giving up. It’s hard to view either of these extremes as people; either we elevate them to god-like status or cast them as evil villains in our life narrative. But they were people and had a significant impact in our early years.
The great thing about teaching is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all profession. There’s not one type of person who can step into a classroom and take on that role as a teacher. Classrooms across the country are filled with many different types of personalities, outlooks and beliefs. Your style of teaching will be as individual as you are.
What they all have in common is a desire to see young people grow and develop and teach something of the chosen subject they have specialised in. How they do that and where is a matter of education, experience and where they land up for work but these common themes run through education establishments and their employees the world over.
Teachers recognise the value of a child’s worth and know that while they are teaching collectively, each child is individually important and will learn at different speeds and in different ways. For that reason, teachers tend to be flexible and open to opportunities to individualise lessons where possible.
No one ever said teaching was an easy profession and if you’re looking for a job where you can switch into cruise control, you’re unlikely to find it in education. There are a lot of challenges when it comes to teaching and you do have to be able to demonstrate resilience in the classroom to get through your day. Like every job, teaching can be stressful and it can be full on, but it can also be worthwhile and rewarding.
There will be issues you come up against that are outside your control. Challenges around funding for your school, its programmes and equipment is something that teachers and school management have to face year on year. Working with what you have becomes a real possibility and finding the money to replace worn out books and sports equipment a yearly headache.
Then there are the aspects of life in the classroom. Having more than 30 children from a variety of backgrounds, family situations and each with their own fears concerns, strengths and weaknesses can be daunting. The teacher needs to address behaviour that isn’t acceptable while encouraging those quieter children who so often get overlooked. It’s a tough gig and one that requires patience, dedication and a great sense of humour. While teacher training goes a long way to equip teachers in the art of classroom management, there’s nothing like experience to finesse and polish those skills.
Children don’t come ready to go from the same mould, like adults they have different motivations, skills and abilities and there are some children who will always need a little extra help and guidance to help them achieve their full potential. The challenge for many teachers is how to give adequate attention to those children who have additional needs and the rest of their class of unique individuals.
While teaching is a job and carries with it compensation in the form of a salary there are other, less tangible, rewards that come from this role.
For some it will be the individual triumphs and achievements experienced on a daily basis seeing a child finally get to grips with a difficult maths challenge or figure out how an experiment works. It might be witnessing a student’s love of reading grow and flourish as they discover books that lead them into adventure and mystery.
For others, however, it’s the more long term achievements that foster that sense of having reached your teaching goals. Hearing about how well a pupil has done outside of school when you knew they faced significant challenges or having a former student come back and say thank you for inspiring and teaching them are moments that often make the harder times feel worthwhile.
League tables, school inspections and exam results are some ways to measure your success as a teacher but very often it’s these individual triumphs that help you to recognise how valuable and worthwhile your job is.
Life outside school
Is going to be busy. Unlike other professions, school life doesn’t finish with the bell mid-afternoon. You will have meetings, planning, parents and pupils all clamouring for your attention. Not to mention your own life and family.
At first this juggling act can feel like too much. Too much pressure, too much to do and too little time spent with the people you care about. While the workload doesn’t get easier or less, the time you spend on it does. You will know instinctively what you’re doing, how the lesson is going to pan out and what you need to do to prepare without starting again from scratch.
Less and less will take you by surprise and as your experience grows, so will your confidence. Teaching has the habit of forging a teacher’s identity outside of school as much as in it. Chances are you will be thinking and talking about your school life an awful lot to friends and family. It really isn’t a profession you can pick up in the morning and leave when you exit the building. The children, your own drives, all become very much a part of who you are.
You will need to schedule your time effectively, to set aside your planning and marking time but also to guard your family and personal time fiercely. It’s far too easy to burn out in a profession like this, to be overtaken by the demands of the job and lose track of your own well being.
You may have gone straight into teacher training at university, or considering changing profession from your current job. If you’re going in as an older adult there are generally several ways you can go about that. One of the biggest fears about retraining in general is the worry about how much it might cost you.
The good news here is that there are several schemes out there that offer mature students and in particular trainee teachers the opportunity to get paid to train. Where there are shortages in areas of the country you might even find yourself on a fast-track scheme that leads you straight into your first job.
If you are studying at university you may also find you have access to grants and bursaries set aside specifically for certain professions that will take the sting out of course fees, books and daily living expenses.
If you are unsure whether teaching is the right course for you, then there is always the option to test the water before you commit to anything. Volunteer as a reader and spend some time in the classroom before you decide. Talk to teachers and find out how they feel about their profession and if it’s as rewarding as you think.
Making that leap into education can be a huge transition, particularly if you’ve always worked in the private sector. But it might just be the most rewarding decision you ever make.
You don’t have to have to be a certain type of person, you just need the passion, drive and determination to want to see each child achieve their potential and to share your knowledge. You recognise that each student is an individual with their own hopes and fears and want to build on that.
When it comes to some of the challenges you’re likely to face you will have to have a realistic expectation of what you’re going to have to face and how you’re going to deal with them. They’re not insignificant but balanced out with the rewards, both financial and personal, you will find that they are worth taking on.
Becoming a teacher is, if anything, certainly more of a calling than simply a professional decision. You can’t help but feel proud of your students when you see them solving problems and developing educationally and in their personalities. You’re bound to feel frustrated and sad at times and feel that you’re facing impossible challenges but at the end of the day you’re bringing determination, grit and you to the job and that’s going to take you far. You will be that teacher that inspires your students with great leadership, strength and the determination to succeed in their lives.