Life as a teacher is always varied. Whether you teach in the primary sector or secondary, further education or higher education, no two days will be the same. So if the thought of variety appeals to you, and you are attracted to the idea of never fully knowing exactly how a day will pan out, teaching is a great career choice.
How does secondary work?
In the secondary phase of education, you will typically be teaching your specialist subject for most of the day to a range of classes and ages. Some secondary teachers teach additional subjects where needed. Each day is a varied mix; potentially you could be teaching classes from Year 7 to Year 13, and interact with hundreds of different people. Some schools organise pupils in mixed ability classes whereas others set or stream pupils by ability or attainment.
A school day is not just about teaching, however. The job of a secondary teacher also involves plenty of pastoral work, usually with a tutor group, as well as the planning and assessment of the work completed by your students. It is often the case that your tutor group stays with you as they move up through the year groups so you get to know them well as they grow and mature as learners and as people.
Most secondary schools have a departmental or faculty structure so it is likely you would be teaching in a department with other specialists in your subject. This can be a supportive way of working, where certain tasks are shared and strategies for developing pedagogy (the “how” of teaching) and behaviour management specific to the needs of your subject can be discussed.
A typical day
A typical day for a secondary teacher will be divided into lessons (which vary in duration from school to school) and many secondary teachers will have some non-contact time (free periods) during a day to be spent on planning and preparation.
Shantelle Hendrickson is a secondary English teacher and lead practitioner with thirteen years of experience. She told Eteach that, “from the age of about 11 I always wanted to teach and took the very conventional route of doing a degree in English and then a PGCE in English with drama, and then straight into my NQT (newly qualified teacher) year.”
For Shantelle, the typical teaching day is a mix of teaching Years 7-11. “I generally teach 3-4 lessons a day. I have meetings to attend in the afternoon, planning and marking to do, and checking in with our newly qualified teachers and beginner teachers.”
Challenges of a teacher
All teaching jobs can pose challenges. For Shantelle, keeping on top of marking can be demanding. “In addition,” she explains, “all the other seemingly endless bits of paper work for example data entries and so on can be time consuming. I am fine with the behaviour in my classes and the planning. Other challenges can be working with difficult members of staff and it can sometimes feel as though they are blocking progress in the school.”
No matter what the challenges are, however, the pleasures of teaching are plenty! “The joys for me are watching the students make progress, having funny conversations with them, and being on top of my to do list,” Shantelle says. “Keeping me in the job is the time I get to spend with my kids during the holidays, and my passion for the subject.”
People can join the teaching profession at just about any time of their working lives. There is no ideal or perfect time. For some it feels right to train straight after doing a degree in their early twenties, whereas others may want to see the world or work in a different profession first. Shantelle feels it is worth thinking about when the best time to enter the profession would be for you. She explains, “My advice would be to see the world first, experience new and different cultures and different jobs before deciding if you still want to teach, because once you’re in you’re in!”
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.