What is life as a teacher really like?

For those coming into the teaching profession as brand new teachers, it can help to understand what life as a teacher is really going to be like and get some practical advice.

To find out, we asked three different teachers to help give an idea of what to expect and what advice they would give to new teachers.

We spoke to Nicky Thompson (Design Technology), Farah Hussein (French and German) and Pooja Rana (Science).

How do you choose the right school to work for? What do you need to consider?

Choosing the right school can be tough. So, it’s important to go in prepared when you visit the school. Nicky says:

“Spending the whole (interview) day in the school helps to some extent give you a feel for the school, its values and its ambitions. More importantly, you have the opportunity to meet your future colleagues and learn what they are looking for in their new hire. Like most jobs, this is crucial to deciding whether the school is right for you”.

Nicky’s advice is to go prepared with questions, as this helps you to learn as much as you can about the school, the department and the young people you’ll be working with. She suggests asking questions such as:

  • What subjects will I be expected to teach?
  • How many classes will I be taking on?
  • What’s the split between age/year groups that I will be teaching?
  • Will I have a tutor group?
  • What is the behaviour policy school wide and specifically in the department I’ll work in?
  • What are the current challenges in the department and what is being done to overcome them?

Another thing to consider is the quality of the school itself. Farah says:

“When a job is advertised, you need to think about whether or not you could be happy in that workplace, as you will spend a lot of your time there”.

Farah’s tips in researching your potential new school include:

  • Check the Ofsted reports for the last 10 years. Find out what grades the school was given. What are its good points? Priorities?
  • Check the school website – you’ll be able to see how the school is organised by checking its policies and procedures online. This should also tell you what sort of enrichment activities take place and what the academic results are like
  • See if anyone you know has worked at the school or knows anyone there. The teacher network is very connected, see what you can find out about the school, staff and students. Also, you can ask in online Facebook groups for teachers
  • Ring the listed contact and ask if you can visit the school. Make sure you go during the school day so that you get a real feel for the environment
  • Make sure you’re dressed smartly and remember that this can be an informal interview, so first impressions are important
  • Look at behaviour in lessons, as well as corridors. What is the staff presence like? If you see anything negative, how is it dealt with, or is it ignored by staff?
  • Ask questions about the department. Do they all work full-time, or part-time? Do they seem supportive? Can you see yourself as part of that team?
  • Ask to see Schemes of Work and ask about how teachers plan or share resources
  • You can also ask if there’s a folder on the school system, where everyone adds their resources. This will tell you whether the department works collaboratively or not and could reduce your workload in the future

Like Farah, Pooja also encourages new teachers to look at the colleagues you will have around you.

“When deciding which school to work for, I look for a supportive, motivated environment as these will be the people I will need to rely on. In the school I work at, I’m surrounded by good colleagues that are always willing to support one another and I can’t emphasise how important this has been in making my job easier”.

What is the best thing about being a teacher?

Nicky insists it’s not just the holidays.

“If you ask this question to anyone that’s not a teacher, they’ll say the school holidays. Yes, these are great, but there’s so much more to teaching than that. Someone once told me that teachers have their foot permanently on the generosity pedal.

“It’s all about giving day in day out and going out your way to do everything and anything you can to guide your students on the right path to success. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a thank you from time to time.”

Nicky insists the job isn’t about getting praise. Farah agrees:

“The perk ultimately is the relationship you develop with your students and watching them grow over the years that you teach them. It sounds a bit mushy, but you genuinely feel proud in seeing them flourish and grow as people”. 

As a French and German teacher, this is clearly more apparent to Farah:

“You start with them struggling with even forming a sentence in a foreign language and by the time they are ready to take their exams, they are so much more confident in themselves and able to speak quite fluently”.

For Pooja, as a chemistry and physics teacher, she finds it exciting to see students grasp really difficult subjects.

“Physics and chemistry are not easy subjects to learn” she says.

“Some students do have a natural ability for it but I love helping those that really find it hard and watching them overcome this fear and surpass their own expectations. It’s those students that bring me the most satisfaction”.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your life as a teacher and what advice would you give other new teachers?

Farah acknowledges that the workload can be demanding.

“I’m sure if you read the news, you will have seen that there are reports of high workloads and this can be an issue”.

Her tips for managing high workload are:

  • In your holidays, spend a few days looking at your timetable and do some mid-term planning for your classes. This will give you an overview of what content each lesson will need to cover that term and enable you to plan lessons more efficiently
  • Plan at least two weeks’ worth of lessons and resources for each class during your time off. It’s always difficult to get back to teaching after any holiday (long or short) and it’s normal to feel drained after the first few days back
  • This forward planning will take off some of the pressure during term time and give you a bit of time to get back into the swing of things

Marking is something to get used to in your life as a teacher. “It can be monotonous and time consuming” Farah says. Her tips for how to mark efficiently include:

  • Ask students to peer mark classwork that doesn’t need marking in detail. You can walk around during the lesson and quickly check/stamp/tick each book when students are busy with another activity.
  • Pick one piece of written work that you will mark in detail per class –you should focus on marking this thoroughly by following your school marking policy
  • For most, you will need to give an effort grade, a positive comment, a comment on HOW/WHAT to do next to improve, as well as mark the work for literacy mistakes
  • Create a marking timetable to ensure that you mark all books regularly. Make sure you record the marks with dates in your school planner/excel sheet
  • Build in lesson time for students to go through their mistakes, speak to you about anything they did not understand and complete the corrections

Nicky highlights the importance of behavioural management and expecting the unexpected. She highlighted how the first year in the profession is always the hardest. But, it does get easier as you become more experienced.

“Teaching is a rewarding profession to be in but it too comes with a number of challenges. One being behaviour management and being able to adapt quickly. For any new teacher, your first year of teaching will indeed be the toughest and this is by no means a secret.

“It’s crucial to establish yourself in a new school and this takes time, particularly with young people. The good news is that it does get easier, and each year you are stronger and better for it”.

Things can however go wrong and Nicky recommends having some contingencies in place.

“In an ideal world teacher’s would stick to their lesson plan. But, working with young people means the dynamic of a lesson can change unexpectedly and you have to be ready for it. Imagine, you’ve planned a lesson where students watch a video and then carrying out activities based on the video afterwards.

“Your projector breaks down just as the class are ready to start watching. You could fiddle around with the wires and call IT but at this point the class think it’s break time. Being able to manage situations like this comes with time and experience and most importantly through trial and error. It’s good practice to have something up your sleeve, ready for moments like these.”

About the author: Sajan Devshi is a content creator at Learndojo, a completely free (non-profit) revision website for students, parents and teachers that provides help with GCSE revision.