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How To Become A Teacher

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How to become a teacher Teaching, it is often said, is both an art and a science. In truth, it is possible to become proficient in certain aspects of the job through practice – and these will help you develop into an effective teacher. However, each teacher is also an individual and brings something unique and personal to their own teaching. In addition, certain skills and techniques must be acquired, understood, and applied with insight – never mechanically. An effective teacher gradually learns to integrate the theoretical aspects of teaching with her/his developing practical experience, regularly reflecting on actual teaching outcomes in order to develop and progress as a maturing professional.

Teaching-related work experience

Before accepting you on a teacher training course, training providers will need you to have spent at least some time in a school. This will help you decide if a teaching career is for you, and can involve volunteering as a mentor, working as an assistant, or observing an experienced teacher. Some training providers also run short taster courses for this purpose, and all will be helpful if you wish to gain some work experience.

Primary v secondary teaching

For primary education, you train to teach the complete range of national curriculum subjects. Generally, primary schools have broader and more diverse approaches to educating their pupils.

For secondary level, the requirement would be teaching one or more national curriculum, or vocational, subjects to exam qualification level. Because your students need to acquire exam qualifications, the major focus of secondary education is on that requirement.

Entry qualifications for teaching

Those who want to train as a teacher must first of all have gained GCSE qualifications in both Maths and English at grade C or above. Anyone who intends to teach ages 7-14 must, in addition, have a GCSE in Science at grade C or above.

To qualify as a teacher, you will need a university-level degree or a recognised equivalent qualification. For secondary teachers, your degree must also relate to the subject you intend to teach. This is necessary because a teacher training course will focus on how to teach, and not on subject detail. As regards specific subject knowledge, teacher-training providers will assess your level. If your subject skills should need a 'top-up' to meet the demands of professional teaching, your provider will discuss any preliminary subject knowledge enhancement course with you before you begin training.

Postgraduate teaching qualification

In the UK there are three main ways of gaining QTS (qualified teacher status) and becoming a teacher:

1) Train on a postgraduate teaching course through a higher education institution (HEI) – you study full-time or part-time to gain QTS.

2) Train as a student teacher through a (student-training) school – you also train as a student teacher, but at a school rather than an HEI as above.

3) Become employed as a teacher at a school – you are paid as an unqualified teacher until you gain QTS.

Option 1, training as a student teacher through a higher education institution, is the most common method of completing initial teacher training (ITT) and acquiring QTS. Our article on  Five reasons to do a PGCE  outlines why this should be the route to teaching that you should follow.

Studying teaching at a Higher Education Institution

How to become a teacher A PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) qualification is the most popular route into teaching, and takes one year to complete with full-time study, or two years part-time. Funding for PGCE, like undergraduate funding, is covered by student loans and maintenance grants. However, because high-quality teachers are in demand, extra sources of funding are available – especially for subjects with teacher-shortages. You can find out more about funding your PGCE in our article on  PGCE Funding .

Course content includes theoretical work – mostly HEI-based – and plenty of practical teaching experience with two or more school placements. For support, you will have regular contact with an HEI tutor and also a school mentor. They will guide you and assess your progress, with the school mentor acting as your 'line manager' on school placements.

The majority of your time will be spent teaching in school where the PGCE course requires you to achieve a range of standards, gradually accepting more teaching responsibilities over time. By the end of the course, your teaching timetable and responsibilities will be close to those of a qualified teacher.

Having finished your PGCE with a 'pass', you will gain a PGCE certificate and automatic QTS status. Now known as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) for the first twelve months of your career, you may apply for teaching jobs as a highly prized, qualified entrant to the teaching profession.

PGCE student case study

AJ was a PGCE student at a university in North Wales

Whilst studying for his undergraduate chemistry degree, AJ undertook voluntary mentoring at a local school. This, he explains, "Sparked an interest in education and helping young people to gain knowledge and confidence in science."

Following this AJ was confident that he wanted to train as a teacher, so he applied and was accepted on a PGCE course within his local area. The course, AJ said, had a good balance between "fantastic support and advice within your subject area as well more general areas within teaching."

AJ's course had two major components: school teaching placements and university training weeks, plus many other lectures and workshops.

After an initial briefing and preparation period, AJ's school placements began. These were at two secondary schools and involved teaching various age and ability levels. AJ was also supported by a university tutor during this period.

AJ observes: "The main difference between my undergraduate degree and the PGCE is that teacher training is a far more applied learning experience. You are a lot more independent in your study, especially since you can be away from university for up to 14 weeks during school placement. That said, a lot of support is available from tutors so you don't have to worry struggling through the course alone."On the course, AJ progressed massively thanks to the quality of teaching and advice provided. Overall he found the experience rewarding, challenging and enjoyable. AJ is now qualified and has accepted a job as a chemistry teacher in the north of England.

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