Get into Teaching
It was only 8.43am and I had already looked at the clock 17 times since arriving at work. I couldn’t remember whether it was Wednesday or Thursday, each day seemed to blur into the next; as I sat at my desk wondering how my life had become so boring so soon after finishing university. I took a break from the data entry task I was working on and searched Gumtree for jobs under the subject title “fun jobs.” There were all sorts to choose from but one that came up time and time again was the role of teaching assistant. I had a little experience of working with children through my time as a voluntary football coach at my local junior team but had never considered working in a school. The average teaching assistant salary was less than I was earning at the time but with very few outgoings, the pursuit of job satisfaction far outweighed my desire to earn lots of money.
I applied for every position within a three mile radius of home and was delighted when a SEN (Special Educational Needs) school invited me in for an interview. The interview consisted of spending the day in a range of classes and despite having to duck flying objects and awkwardly dodge inappropriate questions I instantly loved the energy and enthusiasm of both the staff and pupils. I crawled out of there feeling exhausted, but it wasn’t a lethargic sort of tiredness you get when you stare at a computer screen too long; it was the sort of tiredness you feel after a day spent at the zoo or theme park. Schools are incredibly dynamic and exciting places and I realised after just one day that I would never need to clock watch again.
Long term staff absences meant that I was soon catapulted from my thoroughly enjoyable teaching Long term staff absences meant that I was soon catapulted from my thoroughly enjoyable Teaching Assistant role into a sports coaching position.
Despite feeling nervous to begin with I started to gain confidence and as the pupils and I got used to each other the job got easier. There were challenging days but there were also days when I would take a group to the park and play cricket in the sun all afternoon and feel a bit of a fraud being paid to do something I love. After 9 very happy years and having been promoted to a senior leadership position I moved on to gain further experience within a different provision.
I considered mainstream however there are so many positives about working with children or adults with SEN it was an easy decision for me. Class sizes are generally far smaller in SEN provision therefor the paperwork required is drastically reduced and it is easier to build meaningful, positive relationships with both pupils and their parents or carers. Working with young people who have additional needs and have to overcome huge barriers in order to function in everyday life is not only very rewarding but also inspiring. I have witnessed incredible feats of determination and perseverance during my time that have further strengthened my desire to work in this incredibly specialist but rewarding field.
More recently, my time as deputy head of a college for adults with learning disabilities and as head of a school for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties, has broadened my horizons even further. It is fair to say that none of us stop learning and I am convinced that I have learnt more from the pupils or students in my care than they have from me. I now observe more lessons than I teach but the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up when I observe an outstanding lesson where the teacher and students work together to create a learning environment that is exciting and creative and where all participants are on their own personal journey of progress and fulfillment. I now take just as much pleasure from watching a trainee teacher learn and develop as I do the students in his or her class.
With this in mind, there are now more ways than ever to get into teaching, lots of providers are offering their own teacher training routes either through Assessment Only qualifications or Diplomas in Education and Training. This, coupled with the more traditional routes such as PGCE, means there really isn’t a reason not to give teaching a go.
Ben Walsh writes on behalf of Orchard Hill College and Academy Trust. Orchard Hill College and Academy Trust (OHC&AT) together form a family of specialist providers. As an outstanding provider and Academy sponsor, Orchard Hill College has a strong track record for making a positive impact within the local community it serves. Find out more at www.orchardhill.ac.uk