So, you’re thinking of changing careers and wondering whether FE teaching is the way forward? Or perhaps you’re already in the middle or near the end of the transition? Whichever stage you are in,
1. Think carefully
Moving into teaching isn’t for everyone or for the faint hearted. You need to take a long look at what it will mean to begin working as a teacher.
There are lots of positives about being a teacher, but you need to weigh them up carefully against the possible downsides. You may need to gain qualifications before you can begin formal training, such as ensuring you have the right GCSE results and level of subject knowledge. Most teaching roles will require some sort of teaching qualification as well, such as a PGCE, where you study teaching theory and complete teaching placements to gain classroom experience, before you can start applying for work. Or, you may be able to move straight into a teaching role and gain teaching qualifications at the same time.
Depending on your current role, teaching could mean a drop in salary – most earning £20,000-£30,000 a year – so you may need to seriously consider your finances first. And of course, if you do need to complete teacher training or gain qualifications in your subject area or the required GCSE grades in English and Maths, then those costs need to be weighed in as well. While there are lots of bursaries and funding support for primary and secondary teacher training, especially in shortage subjects, this may not be the case for FE.
2. Choose the right role
There are lots of different roles within FE that may be worth considering. As well as a teaching role, there are trainers, management and assessors, all of which still involve working with students but in different ways. It’s probably worth looking at the different job specifications for each role and deciding which one would suit you and your skills the best. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the different roles or ask to visit universities, training providers and colleges to get a feel for the service and the staff before you apply for jobs or training.
3. Get some experience
If you are thinking of moving into teaching, but aren’t sure at which level or if it is the career move for you, then why don’t you think about trying it out in a voluntary capacity if you can? This will give you the chance to get some first-hand experience of working in a classroom and teaching, as well as the opportunity the discuss the job role in more detail with other members of staff. Not to mention, prior teaching experience always looks great on an application and in an interview. It can help show your commitment to your career change and understanding of what’s required.
4. Do some research
It’s always a good idea to do some research, wherever you are in the journey between an industry career and working in FE. This might be research into the job role or the service or training provider in the run up to an application or interview, it might be research into assessment criteria and course specifications to prepare resources for lessons, and it might be research into teaching methods and styles to help improve your own practice.
Don’t just rely on your own knowledge and experience, or the anecdotes and ideas of colleagues. It’s always good to have a repertoire of strategies, resources, ideas and examples to fall back on. Feeling prepared goes a long way to feeling confident when in front of a class full of students.
5. Practice, practice, practice
There is never an end point in teaching. It is a learning journey that never ends. See each lesson as a practice. You will never get every aspect of it perfect because you and your students are not perfect or exactly the same all the time. There’s always something new to learn. Don’t be afraid of those teaching moments and remember to stay flexible in your approach: you never know what’s going to happen, and that slight detour might cause a ‘lightbulb moment’ for someone.
If you see each lesson as a practice, then you’re always looking for ways to improve and new ideas to try. If something doesn’t work quite like you imagined or goes horribly wrong (in your opinion), make sure to think carefully about the reasons why and give it another try. Sometimes our mistakes lead us to find a new way of teaching or thinking or doing things that makes things easier for ourselves or our students.
6. Stay positive
You’re going to have good and bad days, you’re going to have challenging students and at times you’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to change career. Try and stay positive. A positive attitude goes a long way. It can help you deal with those challenging students, the students lacking confidence and those lacking motivation. It can help you deal with frustrations and long, tiring days. It can help you deal with the politics, the data crunching and the paperwork.
Try to find at least one positive in every lesson and every day, even those where it seems everything went wrong, and focus on those. Use the negatives as learning moments, things to improve, but it’s the positives you want to remember. Perhaps note them down somewhere – a planner, a notebook, a post-it in a jar – so when you’re having a rough day or a tough week, you can get them out and remind yourself of all the good things you’ve done and why you need to keep going. It might be one of your students’ flyaway comments, it might be seeing how one of them has improved, it might be some feedback a student or staff member has given you; whatever it is, make note of it and use it fuel your enthusiasm, your positivity and your drive to teach.
This one is easily overlooked but it is one of the most important. You need to talk to your colleagues about your classes and your students. Share the things that have gone well and those which haven’t, discuss the students making progress and those offering you the most challenge, share resources which have worked well and those that didn’t. Your colleagues will be able to empathise and offer insights into strategies to try, ideas to help or just be an ear of support. Again, remember the good with the bad; don’t just talk about what is going wrong or you’re finding difficult. Be an ear for them as well. Remember that you’re not on your own, you’re not teaching in isolation but are part of a team.
No one can help if they don’t know there is a problem.
However, also remember to talk about things not teaching related. Talk about the news, the weather, what you did at the weekend, a book you’ve read, a song you’ve liked – anything. It’s important to remember that a teacher, trainer or assessor isn’t all you are. It’s important to remember there is a world outside the classroom. This will not only help you stay positive and enthusiastic in the classroom but will help you deal with the pressures and stresses involved in the job, as well as communicate and build those relationships with your students.
8. Be patient
When people discuss the qualities of a good teacher, they usually include things like enthusiasm, good subject knowledge, friendly, helpful, the ability to make learning fun and/or interesting, etc. Patience is another useful quality but it can be hard to maintain sometimes. You will need to demonstrate patience a lot in your day to day dealings as a teacher. When you’re waiting in a queue for the printer, when in team meetings or staff development sessions or when dealing with paperwork and collecting data. When teaching students who are lazy, distracted or disruptive; when you can’t seem to find the switch the turn the lightbulbs on in your students’ minds about a certain topic or idea and you’ve tried every way you can think of to explain it; or when you’re going over the same topic for the fifth time that week or the fifth time with that group. And when you just want five minutes and your to-do list is the size of a mountain and that student wants to talk to you at the end of class again – there are a lot of times when patience is more than a virtue but is a necessity.
Most importantly though, you need to remember to be patient with yourself. You’re not going to get everything right all the time. It is OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to be tired and drained and not sure what to do. Remember to breathe, take a break and be patient. Things generally have a way of working out, even if it’s not the way you expected.
I hope these tips have helped those of you who are thinking about making the switch or are in the process of doing so. Teaching can be an incredibly daunting and difficult career at times, but it is also incredibly rewarding and satisfying as well.