last year, i felt that i was ready to go back to school in the final weeks of the summer holidays – not this time. i’m sure we only finished yesterday..? that’s not to say my excitement for the impending academic year ahead has subsided though. na-uh. however, anxiety levels have increased a notch or two now i’m at the hump of the holidays and rapidly descending towards september.
i’m only nervous of the unknown; every person who’s been through teacher training in the history of time has said how hard it is on the body and mind which is a little hard to swallow when you’ve spent the last three weeks doing bugger all. my dad has said it might not be so bad because i’ve already dabbled in a bit of teaching and therefore voiced in some of the basics, but i’ll be keeping my guard up until further notice.
i was browsing forums during the final weeks of term to stop myself from exploding from boredom and it was interesting to see what different trainees were doing preparation-wise; some were already getting resources together whilst others were discussing their pre-course tasks. the top thing on my priority list though was ‘chillax’, not because i’m an absolute lazy arse (just a bit of a lazy arse) but i know that the next ten months, maybe more, of my life are going to be mental busy and i don’t want to spend the precious free time i have now doing stuff that might not be worth the effort or completely pointless altogether. i’ve been told my first few weeks will mainly consist of observing rather than teaching so i thought i’d wait until i’m in school to find out exactly what i’m doing and when before delving into resource creation. i’m hoping that i can use my free lessons to get going…hoping!
all i’ve done really is tackle some of the recommended reading my uni has given me, bookmarked anything that will probably be relevant later, and looked through a few specs as requested by my new head of english. i mentioned phil beadle’s how to teach in a previous post and now i’ve trawled through the whole thing, i definitely recommend getting a copy – it’s like the bible of common sense teaching. pimp my lesson (look on amazon) is a pretty decent read too as it’s full of ideas to incorporate into your lessons whilst ticking the ‘good/outstanding teacher’ observation criteria.
as for other bits, i’m off to california on sunday. i’m not one to take work with me on holiday but i’ve stocked up on a few books to get through the longer than life flight. as soon as i get back, i’ll be landing into my first week on school direct. time flies!
this is more of an english specific post (soz) but the concept might help others.
at some point during the school direct application process, you’ll be asked to complete an audit of your subject knowledge. firstly, the easiest thing is to check what you do and don’t know against the national curriculum (remember that it’s set to change from sept 2014) and figure out what you need to work on from that. if you can, try fill your brain with new nuggets of info ahead of the interview process. of course, institutions don’t expect you to be able to name every recommended ks3 text nor be able to reel off all the poetic techniques known to man, but you won’t get far if you don’t have the foggiest about what you’re expected to cover in your subject. also, be prepared to explain to a panel how you intend to improve your knowledge on what you don’t know ahead of starting the course. if your school is on the ball, they should send you schemes of work before you start – even if they don’t, ask!
as a whole
there are five main areas of subject knowledge in english. one of the unis i was interviewed at sent me a form to fill in so you can base your own assessment on this:
- pre-1914 literature
- post-1914 literature
- language (this goes beyond knowing where to put a capital letter and a semi-colon. a good site to refer to is cybergrammar.co.uk)
- literature from different cultures (of mice and men is one of the most well-known novellas here)
- literature for teenagers and children
i definitely freaked at some of these categories but you’ll find lists of suggested authors and texts within the national curriculum – even if you just read a few of the suggested texts, it’s better than not having a clue! like i said already, no-one will have a solid knowledge of everything at this stage so interviewers won’t expect you to. if you start brushing up early (say…now), that’s one less thing to flap about if you get ‘the’ call.
whilst it’s not a requirement to have an in-depth knowledge of english gcse and a-level exam specs, it’s worth looking on potential schools’ websites to see if you can find out what exam boards they use. this worked well for me as my support role was specific to gcse english so i already knew the set texts, poetry anthology and controlled assessments for the exam board my new school uses, which i explained that to them in my interview. again, showing an awareness of popular exam tests/reading them if you have the time, will show that you can hit the ground running. i’ve worked across two gcse exam boards and of mice and men and animal farm have cropped up both times; romeo and juliet is a popular choice for shakespeare. i can’t speak so much for a-level as i don’t think a training year involves much work with ks5 but it’s worth keeping it in the back of your mind, especially if you’re keen to teach in sixth form.
read all about it
unless you’re already an avid reader of teen fiction, the easiest way to brush up on your knowledge of books which are ‘down with the kids’ (oxymoron perhaps?) is to pop to your local library and peruse the teen section. although the national curriculum is ideal for finding out which authors have gove’s stamp of approval, picking up any literature that tickles your fancy can be just as valuable. one piece of advice i was given when i started on my teaching quest was to read teen books simply so you can recommend reads to your own class (it probably makes you look like you know what you’re talking about outside of your actual lesson…). i’ve been a member of a library for a while now, and despite feeling like an ultimate nerd, i’ve managed to get through quite a few books without paying a penny. ideal.
i feel incredibly old when i remember that i started my undergrad degree SIX years ago. this was emphasised the other day at my uni induction morning when at least half of the room raised their hands to show that they were in the process of completing their degrees. apart from my blatant lack of awareness when it comes to the ageing process, i quite like being in the ‘older and wiser’ camp by which i can safely say i’ve been in the real world, done it and got the t-shirt declaring that didn’t like it.
in some ways, going back to uni is a slight novelty for me; i didn’t leave so long ago that i’ve forgotten how to ‘be’ a student but i feel i know more about the world of work than my fresh-out-of-education peers. i used to daydream of life pre-graduation, particularly in my old job, longing to turn back the clock to a time when my biggest concern was whether staying in bed watching jeremy kyle was more important than going to my lecture (jezza usually won) but being a student this time round will be an entirely different ball game.
going for my uni induction was considerably less daunting than visiting my school properly for the first time as a) you know everyone is feeling relatively similar to you and b) it’s something we’ve all done before. in terms of what was covered, it was fairly standard: the tutors introduced themselves before dissecting our welcome packs which were mainly filled with complexing-looking spreadsheets; modules for the year ahead were explained which included details of how we’d be assessed and we received our timetables for the academic year. in summary:
- i’ll be taking seven modules over the year: four which are equivalent to final year undergrad work and three at masters level (it seems pretty standard to get credits towards a masters in the pgce year). some of the modules are assessed in school whilst the others are more academic.
- every wednesday will be spent training which alternates weekly between school and uni. additionally, i’ll be spending four full weeks at uni throughout the year when we’ll be focusing on enhancing subject knowledge, teaching theories and given time to complete assignments.
- obviously i’ll be in school when i’m not at uni but i was given a better idea of where i’d be and when in terms of placement. i’ll be at my main school for all of the autumn term and then allocated to another school after christmas for a month. following that, i’ll be going to a special school for two weeks (this can be anything from working to students with severe learning difficulties, EAL or G+T pupils, maybe even primary) before going back to where i started for the remainder of the year.
in terms of pre-course work, i was sent an induction pack after confirming my place featuring a reading list which emphasised swotting up on behaviour management and reflective teaching. i’ve got two books to peruse over the summer: phil beadle’s how to teach and some massive lump of regurgitated tree on reflective teaching. to be honest, i can’t really read academic texts out of context so i’ll probably save the latter for a rainy day. i do, however, recommend beadle’s take on teaching – it doesn’t hold back, essentially offering a ‘real’ view on classrooms today. the book itself is written in an autobiographical style so not only is it easy to digest, it’s surprisingly enjoyable too. of course, i’ll have access to the uni library once i start in september and i’ve got a list of recommended websites to flick through which i’ll check out at some point.
i haven’t been given any assignments as such so i can basically spend my summer in the garden, holidaying, chillaxing…and reading teaching books OBVIOUSLY.
don’t worry, i’m not going all match.com on you but i thought it might be useful to share some nuggets on one of the biggest ‘q’s’ of the whole school direct palava: what school should i go for? the obvious or remotely sarcastic response (if you’re anything like me) might go along the lines of, “whichever one has a place” but if you want to have a shot at success, it’s worth delving a little deeper.
as i’ve mentioned before, you can only apply to a certain number of schools at a time and you don’t want to be wasting spaces on institutions who don’t feel your experience is relevant to them. you may consider that the criteria to teach a certain subject is the same universally but schools may have set requirements for trainees depending on their curriculum and the way the department is set out. here’s a rundown of what to consider when you’re weighing up your options:
how close is too close?
distance is important for any job, even more so when you’re commuting for free (as far as i’m aware, you don’t get ‘expenses’ paid on a non-salaried place). however, i think working in a school can blur the lines of the work-life balance if you don’t pick your location wisely. as a trainee, you’ll still be expected to attend parents’ evenings, after-school meetings and be pulled into the occasional last-minute affair on top of marking, lesson planning and uni work so you don’t want to be spending endless amounts of time in transit. likewise, it’s worth mulling over whether applying to the school up the road is the best idea – do you really want to end up becoming a local attraction to incredulous students whilst you’re traipsing round tesco in your finest ‘for the house only’ attire? similarly, living too close could cause issues if you end up on the wrong side of certain pupils; my boyfriend, although he went to the brilliant local secondary, reminded me that it would only take a little bit of detective work from a bad egg to find out where our house was and potentially make life difficult (admittedly, we are right on the main pathway to the school for most of the town!). whilst i’m looking forward to halving my current hour-long commute, i do and will continue to appreciate being able to come home and not have to worry about bumping into students off-guard!
even though you apply to a lead school, you could be placed at one of the others attached to it during your training (you have to complete two placements). if you’re invited to interview, you’re often given information about all the schools within the consortium so it’s worth bearing in mind that you could end up closer or further from home than you initially expected. in fact, one of the interviews i went to revealed they had just signed up to my local secondary even though it was 20 minutes away.
the extra factor
the first thing i did when the list of schools popped up on the application portal (i should mention that not every school is involved in the programme and i read gripes on the internet from some people who struggled to find places within a reasonable distance) was stick them into google. of course, it was to get a feel for the place as i think a website can say a lot about an institution but really, it was the curriculum i was interested in. coming from a journalism background, i didn’t want my existing knowledge and skills to go to waste so it was important for me that media studies was offered. i also felt that if a school found it to be a worthy enough subject for their students to study, they might take an interest in me as media is often tied to english.
i looked beyond the classroom as well to see what i could possibly see myself getting involved with as i wanted to be in a school where i could dabble in extra-curricular activities – i don’t believe teaching should stop at the end of the last lesson! it’s worth thinking about what interests you could bring to the job whether it’s in the form of a lunchtime society, after-school club or sport. i’m particularly keen on drama as i did a lot of singing and acting when i was younger; one of the draws to my new school was their annual musical in which the english department are heavily involved so it was perfect for me! i’ve got a few more ideas for extra-curricular stuff up my sleeve if i need it though as ultimately, i want to gain as much experience as i can.
lords of education, ofsted, obviously play a huge part in how a school is perceived but i think it’s important to not judge a book by its cover. i read from someone else’s experience that the criteria for a school to offer trainee places is longer than my arm, so i believe that an ofsted verdict shouldn’t be taken as gospel when it comes to deciding who to train with. of course, an ‘outstanding’ rating is attractive but it can also be a hinderance. one school i was interviewed at had this prestigious rating and they weren’t as open to my background as my academics weren’t solely in english. in comparison, my new school have offered me more opportunities because of where i come from but they were disappointed with their recent ofsted inspection. i certainly don’t feel like i’m at a disadvantage – i felt at home in my new school as it didn’t seem highly strung! – rather, i’m embracing being able to grow with an establishment that strives to do better.
one of the most useful things you can do prior to an interview or even before applying is to read the school’s latest ofsted report. it gives you a thorough overview of the school that you don’t always get from a website in terms of stats, logistics and a closer look at individual departments. essentially, just because a school is considered to be ‘the best’ doesn’t make it the right place for you!
worth a visit?
whilst this didn’t affect me, there’s no harm in sneaking a peek at schools ahead of applying. i suggest keeping a close eye on school websites for school direct open days as i was invited to a few once my applications were received. i didn’t end up making any of them as i couldn’t get away from work on time but you might as well go along if you can. they’ll give you a chance to get a feel for the school and usually give you more information on the application process and the associated schools in the scheme. admittedly, this is all stuff you get told at interview anyway but it also means you can meet key staff (foot in the door and all that…). one thing that you can’t really find out from a website is what the people are like at the school so this gives you an early opportunity to work out if your potential colleagues are up your street.
little mix‘s song is in my head and it’s a surprisingly fitting title for my latest post; i took my first baby step into the school direct world at the end of last week as i embarked on my induction day at my new school. i’ve jumped between a few jobs since leaving my student days behind slash been in many socially awkward situations as a journo so i never get too nervous on first days. that said, i was still pretty edgy mainly because one often ends up putting one’s foot in one’s mouth around new folk or something generally so-embarrassing-i-wish-the-ground-would-swallow-me-now happens (like the time when i was hit in the face with a basketball on the first day working in my student job, before i’d even opened my mouth, in front of around 20 team mates – i’m still amazed that anyone spoke to me after that episode…).
the uni told me that a day at my school would be arranged ahead of my official start in september which i was pretty pleased about; the first day back after the holidays is manic enough as it is, let alone for a hopeless newbie who ends up being the shadow of a conscientious colleague for the entire duration. i like to consider myself a bit of a miss independent in these situations – i’m not keen on hanging onto one person for dear life, partly out of fear that they’ll fast become annoyed with me before we even get started – but at the same time, i’m not much of a lone ranger either. inductions are the worst for that; you basically end up between a rock and a hard place! anyway, it was nice to get to know my new work chums for the year ahead in a more casual situation as everyone was winding down for the fast approaching hols. it also means i can hit the ground running on the other side of summer which is ideal.
so how was the actual day itself? it was fine – in fact, a standard INSET day which is something i’m used to from my current school. admittedly, it wasn’t entirely relevant to me but the agenda gave me a good idea of where the school is at now and where it’s intending to go. i managed to play a bit of getting to know you with my new head of department; he basically wants to give me a well-rounded experience and we bashed out some options. of course, i’ll be doing english but i’m also dabbling in a bit of media studies and drama. i also got talking to another one of my soon-to-be work pals about the school musical which english takes charge of, so i’m hoping i can get involved in that too.
nothing’s been set in stone yet though but the easiest thing to do is to go into the whole thing with an open mind. i was told at interview that everything was a bit up in the air still so i didn’t expect the schemes of work, timetables and a heap of texts to be thrown at me. instead, they’ve got my email deets and i’ve got theirs so thanks to the power of the interweb, anything i need to know until i ‘officially’ start can be sent my way!
i believe inductions are in full swing for other 2013 school direct chaps and it’s good to see this side of the pre-course prep is sussed. i’m heading to the uni for another induction in just over a week but i’ll probably find that slightly less daunting as everyone will be in the same boat. i also managed to meet the maths school direct person at my new place the other day so at least there’ll be a familiar face there. i’ll let you know what goes down.
the whole school direct application/interview process is a saga in itself as there’s a surprising amount of prep involved. however, you can keep on top of some bits and bobs regardless of whether you have an interview lined up or not; it’s worth doing as you can get the call at pretty short notice. i’ve devised my own ‘toolkit’ (if you like) for success and, at the very least, to attempt to keep your stress levels from rocketing to stratospheric levels!
school direct applications
- if you haven’t already, like ‘get into teaching’ on facebook and twitter as they’ll announce when school direct applications open. i’m pretty sure i got an email from the TA as well…
applications opened in november for 2013 entry but i think they might start in late september/early october for 2014. as i’ve said before, it’s worth drafting out a personal statement beforehand so you can literally perfect it when the time comes. there’s no set closing date for school direct applications so the sooner you apply, the better your chance of getting in there.
- try and rope in a friend/family member/unsuspecting victim to proof-read your application before you send it. you’ll be amazed at how many silly mistakes you miss when you read something over and over again, no matter how competent you are as a writer (i still do it and people paid me to write for two years!!!). obviously, SPAG mistakes are a big no-no for any job application, let alone teaching!
- it’s worth thinking about who can act as a referee as you need to provide the names of two on your application; most institutions ask for an academic reference i.e. university lecturer. the other is up to you, but the obvious choice would be someone from a school you observed at or your current employer.
- everyone communicated with me via email so it’s definitely worth keeping regular checks on your account if you don’t already.
- keep a mental note of when you submitted an application. most schools and unis were pretty good at getting back to me but some institutions didn’t get in touch at all. don’t be afraid to touch base with places if you don’t hear anything after a month or so; one uni told me they’d rejected my application a while back but because it hadn’t registered on my system, i was none the wiser!
- i’ve heard they’re changing the portal next year because it caused a bit of drama this time round. sometimes, even though i hadn’t been successful, my application hadn’t been removed from the portal meaning i couldn’t apply for another places. arrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! the unis deal with the application portal so be prepared to give them a ring and awkwardly ask them to check if your application’s been removed.
- you’ll almost one billion percent be asked about current education issues in your interview. the world of education changes at a surprisingly rapid pace so it’s worth keeping a constant eye on the news, rather than just swotting up the night before your interview – you may end up missing a key story! i’ll do a separate post on the best news places but TES and education guardian are a good start.
- you pretty much need to supply your life story when you go for teacher training places with your gcse certificates, degree certificate(s) and photo id being top of the list. it’s worth digging these out once your application is submitted – some institutions may not be able to interview you if you can’t produce these key documents so if you’re missing anything, at least you can track new ones down before you potentially get called in. your birth certificate, national insurance number and a bank statement/council tax letter/something to prove your address may also need to be provided at interview for CRB checks.
- starting this year, you must have passed both the maths and english skills tests before you start teacher training. you can arrange tests once you’ve submitted your application (you need to prove you’ve applied when you take them) and it’s worth doing them as soon as you feel confident to – if you get called for interview, you’ll likely be asked when you’re taking your tests so it’s worth at least booking them so you can give a date. it’s worth bearing in mind that passing your skills tests before an interview also gives institutions confidence that you meet the requirements for teacher training as they don’t want to have to withdraw their offer because you haven’t passed in time! even if you’re not successful this time round, once you’ve passed your tests, the results are valid for three years so they won’t go to waste.
- get to know the current national curriculum. your subject audit will likely be based on what you’re expected to teach at the moment and you may even be asked for your opinion on it at interview (i did…twice). remember that a new curriculum is due to come into play from 2014 so make sure you swot up on that too.
- prepare to talk about a book you would want to teach to either ks3 or ks4 as i got asked this question twice! it’s worth checking out the current national curriculum for listed authors and texts – whilst you don’t want to mention a book that’s already widely taught, it’s worth having an idea of ‘approved’ authors (obvo, you don’t want to take the 50 shades of grey route…). i went for orwell’s 1984.
it’s one of the most obvious, if not the most obvious question posed to potential teaching advocates: school direct or pgce? yes, there are other options, but these are the ones everyone knows about, sort-of like john lennon and paul mccartney – they’re not the only members of the beatles but they probably spring to mind quicker than the other two. no offence…err…ringo…and george?!
i didn’t have to deliberate much to determine which route i preferred; i’m more hands-on and learn when i actually do something myself so school direct was the obvious choice for me. my year in teaching support has taught me loads and i love the idea of getting to know a particular school, the pupils and the staff; essentially becoming part of the furniture.
as i mentioned in my previous post, most unis encourage trainees to apply for both routes but the courses themselves do vary quite considerably. most information on the content of pgce and school direct courses can easily be found on university websites but you sometimes don’t find out the nitty gritty until you get to interview or manage to get yourself to an open day. obviously, my experience is just for secondary english but i thought i’d lay out my findings to show why school direct was always going to be the right option for me:
obviously, not everyone is able to go back to mum and dad or can afford to leave their job in order to get through their training year. i have a mortgage and will have been on the property ladder for a few years by the time i start my course this september so i can completely relate to the dilemma others who have adult things that we-all-hate-paying-for-but-have-to-anyway are facing. that said, i’m hardly frugal either – i’m going to california this summer – so i also appreciate that some people will be looking at teaching and worrying about the drop in salary (if you get one of the illusive paid places).
if you’re in a situation like mine, i sat down with my better half and we spent a lot of alone time…with a spreadsheet. we looked at our outgoings now but only took one wage into account, looked at what we had to pay for throughout my training and what we could sacrifice. to be honest, we haven’t really had to give up all that much, mutually agreeing we wouldn’t spend a lot of money on each other for christmas and birthdays, hoping we can claw back some pennies to use later in the year.
like with a pgce, you’re entitled to a student loan if you’re taking the unsalaried route and the student finance calculator is uber handy for working out how much loan you’d get based on your current situation. i was offered the standard maintenance loan plus a grant because i’ve been self-supporting for more than three years; they also took my boyfriend’s income into consideration. the TA also offer bursaries for trainee teachers but how much depends on the subject and your degree classification – they release the new amounts at the start of each academic year. in total, i’m looking at getting about £12k which isn’t much less than the salaried route. yes, i’m sure i’ll be making friends with beans on toast and lots of pasta over the course of those ten-or-so months but i see it as a short-term loss for a long-term gain.
the drama with salaried…
you’re probably wondering why someone with a mortgage would be STUPID enough to leave their job to do unpaid teacher training. well, it was partly due to madness but also because it was downright impossible to find a salaried place! the first of my three applications were all for paid positions but every school bar one later emailed me to say that they weren’t offering the salaried route anymore. no reason was given – coincidence? probably. i heard it was something to do with unis pulled a lot of the funding but that’s hardly classified information. however, as i continued with new applications, the more illusive salaried positions became. of course, they’re going to be harder to get than a golden ticket to willy wonka’s chocolate factory because of the demand but it’s something to be aware of, especially if unsalaried isn’t a feasible option for you. personally, i was willing to take the hit to get my training done but if you need a paid route, be prepared for a potentially long wait. i think the salaried course pays roughly £15k but i’ve read about people who’ve been offered less and more in some cases. it’s probably worth speaking to your school to find out how much you’ll get.
why i went for school direct:
- an opportunity to become immersed in a particular school. i’ll be doing two placements throughout my training year but i’ll mostly be based at the school i was interviewed at; the other placement will depend on how i’d like to develop but is likely to stay within the consortium of schools mine is attached to.
- essentially, i’ll be working as a teacher so the training is about as close to doing the actual job as you can get. as i’ve already done some unqualified work, i felt i would develop myself better in the classroom rather than a lecture theatre.
- steady routine: my school direct placement entails four days a week in the classroom and the fifth in training – this alternates every week between a day at uni and a day at a school but off-timetable. i’m a bit ocd when it comes to planning ahead so this way, i’ll know what i’m doing ahead of when it actually happens unlike in a pgce, when every week was different. the school direct programme at the other university also had four days a week in a school but the fifth day was always to be spent in lectures.
- having a mortgage, i can’t just up-sticks and go wherever i’m placed so applying directly to a school meant i knew where i would be going every day and that i’d be able to afford the fuel on my student budget. in comparison, pgce programmes recommend that you live a relatively close distance to the uni and with there being no guarantee on getting placements close to you and having to travel to the uni more often for lectures, it’s a lot harder to plan for. both my school and uni are half an hour’s drive away but if i went to the other uni, it would take me an hour. this would have been less of a problem on school direct but when i asked the pgce tutors if they’d take my circumstances into consideration, they gave me a rather blunt ‘no’, adding that i would have to travel to wherever i was placed which could have taken me an hour and a half each way. bit extreme?
- of course, you’ve got to know your subject well at secondary but schools appeared to have a more open-minded approach to recruitment than pgce tutors, who focused more on academia. my new school were primarily looking for someone who could hit the ground running and had a willingness to develop their knowledge as they went along. however, during my pgce interview, i was interrogated over my a-level grades: “a b in media studies? that’s not very good…” to quote one tutor (told you it was pretty brutal!).
- as i’ve been out of uni for a few years (don’t remind me…), i didn’t really fancy going back to lectures full-time. i’m used to a routine of going into the same place for work every day and i can maintain this on the school direct programme.
- i like to make an impact where i can and being in and out of schools on a pgce didn’t appeal for this reason; i wouldn’t feel confident enough about getting involved in extra-curricular activities if i wasn’t somewhere long-term. i doubt i’ll change the world during my training year but i’m hoping i can get involved in bits and bobs outside of lessons to benefit my development and work with some of the students i might not normally come across as well.