This post, written by Becky Hipkiss, recently featured on the QMUL School of English and Drama’s blog.
‘You know that moment when someone asks you what you’re studying at uni, and you reply “English” and they immediately say “Ohhh so you want to be a teacher then?”. It physically pains me to do so every single time, but I am that person who replies “yes, I actually want to be a teacher”.
I always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was tiny and used to force my sister to play school with me and fill in scrawled, home-made worksheets which I then proceeded to fill with big fat ticks. The ambition faltered slightly in my college years as I imagined being a high-powering publisher, just like Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. That was the dream. Even if it was just for the tight skirts, tall heels and perfectly groomed eyebrows. Then I rediscovered it again this year when I got offered the job of being a classroom tutor at a local high school.
It’s brilliant. Busy, but brilliant. I spend every morning working in classes of year 10s and 11s, usually one-to-one with students that need extra support. The teachers whose classrooms I support, support me in return in my PGCE application, offering to let me plan and teach my own lessons and ask any questions I may have about what teaching a classroom full of hormonal teenagers entails. Working in an East End secondary school is definitely an experience, with rich, multi-cultural diversity being its unique, and most fabulous, focal point. The kids I work with aren’t what I thought they’d be like at all – they have the ‘don’t-care’ attitudes we all had at 15 years old, but they’re bright, respectful young adults and it’s literally like being in a constant episode of Educating the East End.
I’ve recently just been offered a place at the University of Manchester to study for my Secondary English PGCE come September 2015, so I thought I’d give my version of 5 top tips to applying for teacher training:
1. Get some experience before you apply.
Applications open around the end of October and the minimum most institutions ask for is one week within a classroom setting, but I personally think you need a lot more – not just to hit the minimum requirements, but to actually check this is what you want to do as your career. Because teaching is a career, and it is one that I think that people should only do if they know how much work is involved: lesson plans, targets, reluctant kids, long hours, lots of responsibility etc. You need to see the good and the bad experiences in the classroom. I often have days when I love the students and we’re all engaged in a text together, and other days where I could bang all their heads together because they refuse to follow instructions.
2. A range of experience helps too.
Maybe try two different types of secondary school: an academy and a state school? A girls school and a mixed school? Every little helps when it comes to gaining an insight into the classroom. Every teacher’s classroom is different, and I love seeing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to engaging the pupils. Plus it can’t hurt to have something else to talk about on your personal statement!
3. Speaking of which: the personal statement.
The bane of your life during the month of October. Best advice my careers advisor gave to me? Make it concise. Make it relevant. And put what makes you stand out in the first paragraph. My job means I’ll have over 400 hours of classroom experience by the time my PGCE starts, but for some reason I left this rather impressive fact out until my concluding paragraph because ‘I didn’t want to seem bigheaded’. I swear the advisor has never looked more incredulous in her entire life. Trust me – put it at the beginning and grab that admissions officer’s attention.
4. Get in early.
Places get allocated on a first come first served basis and it’s better to get that UCAS application completed and sent off before Christmas so you’re on one of the first interview assessment days. The less competition and the more places available when you’re being interviewed, the better hey?
5. Literacy and Numeracy skills tests.
According to the Department of Education “The professional skills tests for prospective teachers assess the core skills that teachers need to fulfil their professional role in schools, rather than the subject knowledge needed for teaching. This is to ensure all teachers are competent in numeracy and literacy, regardless of their specialism. All current and prospective trainee teachers must pass the skills tests in numeracy and literacy before they can be recommended for the award of qualified teacher status (QTS).” All very well and good but English degree holders? The idea of the numeracy test makes me want to cry. I practised it online and only got 50%, and as the pass mark is 63%, I definitely have some work to do. Make sure you practise your arse off, and book in advance. Most institutes set you a time limit when offering you a place in which to pass (mine’s 30th June 2015), so it’s best to get them out of the way sooner rather than later. It doesn’t help that if you fail one or the other three times, you can’t begin your PGCE until two years later. No pressure.’