Here’s what it’s actually like to go into teaching straight after uni
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
For the majority of us, we leave school with our A Levels and signed shirts in hand and never look back. But for some grads, heading off to London in suits to do stressful assessment centres in massive shiny buildings is not appealing at all, and going back to the classroom seems like a much more enticing option.
That’s not to say that teaching isn’t stressful and scary, especially knowing how much grief we gave our teachers when we were at school. We spoke to Nathan, who graduated from Sheffield and immediately took the plunge straight into a life of teaching. Here’s what life is like on the other side of the chalkboard:
Even though I studied International Relations and Politics at uni, I’m teaching Maths – you don’t necessarily have to have a degree in your subject – as long as you’ve got the right A-Levels – and there are opportunities for refresher courses if you feel you need them. I’m currently at a secondary school in Derby; Teach First focus on putting new teachers into schools where they can make the most difference, so I’m lucky to be in a school which is constantly improving and progressing well.
I was privileged to have a really positive experience of school. I had the support and the resources that I needed, and really inspiring teachers, which gave me a vision of the kind of teacher I want to be. I know what a child can achieve with the right help, and I want to support my pupils to achieve their own goals too.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher for a long time – the ability to make a direct impact on so many lives was really appealing. After uni, I was done with sitting in lectures and taking notes, and I wanted to get stuck in straight away and be really hands-on with my work. That’s why I went for Teach First, because you’re chucked in at the deep end, teaching classes really early on.
I’d been to some Teach First taster days and done some work with them throughout uni – I was even a Brand Manager for them in my final year. The opportunities just kept coming, so while all my friends were applying for corporate grad schemes in London, becoming a teacher was the only thing I wanted to do.
Going straight from uni, the initial period of training is intense – you’re given an overwhelming amount of information in six weeks. Within the first few weeks you’re in front of classes of 30, trying to get them to understand new concepts and ideas. It sounds scary, but you don’t really have a chance to be daunted.
It’s so busy, and it’s completely different to uni where you’ve got very little structure and what feels like a lot of spare time, even though you still end up with a qualification at the end. You’re also straight into a really secure job, which unfortunately isn’t always a guarantee when you finish uni.
Teaching my first lesson was really nerve-wracking – I was teaching Year 10 Maths, which is quite intimidating when you’ve only just left uni yourself. Luckily, they didn’t know I was training, so they just thought I was a teacher like anybody else. I just had to go for it, and in the end it was totally fine. Within a couple of days I’d really got into the swing of it and felt like I was a proper teacher.
I felt like I was really getting somewhere when two of my trickiest classes started getting very high results. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the impact of what I’ve been teaching for months began showing and was incredibly rewarding. It also means a lot when kids tell me they enjoy my lessons, especially teaching Maths which isn’t the most popular subject – it means they’re way more engaged and it’s really affirming that I’m getting something right. It’s times like these that I feel the proudest.
The hardest part of being a teacher is the sheer quantity of work and the pressure, but I’ve learnt to enjoy it – it means I’m more focused and get everything done. If I wasn’t doing something challenging then I wouldn’t be developing, which was a feeling I really had at uni – you don’t get much out of doing something if it’s easy. I always feel proud of achieving something in a high pressure environment, whether it’s a tricky class or some tight deadlines. Plus, if you don’t manage your workload it can run away with you, so being able to work quickly is really important.
There are obviously challenging pupils and moments – this isn’t a job for people who want an easy ride, but you can learn the most from difficult situations, as well as give the most help. If the kids were perfect all the time, there wouldn’t be much to teach them.
We’re not just teachers – because we have a duty of pastoral care, we’re like social workers too. We’re the first point of contact, and I’m responsible for much more than just their learning. The first couple of incidents I had to deal with were quite stressful and shocking, but it’s something you get used to over time.
There are pupils who I’ve developed great relationships with over time, and who surprise me by responding really well unexpectedly. It’s great to get a pupil who normally isn’t interested to engage. Being relatively young myself, I enjoy forming a bond with my pupils and being able to understand them on their level.
Plus, my colleagues are really supportive – I have a mentor, as well as someone who did Teach First last year. Both of them are absolutely fantastic. The other Teach First grad taught a lot of the same pupils last year so he gives me specific help, which is really useful.
More grads should definitely consider teaching – there are few jobs you can do straight out of uni that are more rewarding. Even small, everyday things like getting someone to start tucking their shirt in make it worth while, not to mention helping them towards a better future.
At the end of the day, I want my pupils to succeed and to have the opportunities I had. Everyone should be able to do what they want to do, and you can’t do that without a Maths GCSE. The better their grade, the better their chances will be later on. Also, being able to support pupils and help them grow as individuals is a massive drive.