Early career teachers and teaching in the UK: Four pearls of wisdom

module-teach-in-the-ukMany years ago I did a small amount of teaching in a school in London. At the time I was just two years out of graduating as a qualified teacher.

It was with interest then, that two recent graduates from the Master of Teaching (Primary) program in the School of Education at Western Sydney University have also opted to teach, quite early on in their careers, in the UK. Both graduates have kept me updated about their teaching plans and progress. This entry is a quick window into their teaching experiences thus far.

Many of you will know them, as they are active on Twitter, Rob and John.

The following posts are their stories; I thank them both for sharing what they are learning – it takes HUGE courage to pack up, move and begin your teaching career in a new country.

** Know what thyself is getting into @rtillsley

I want you to remember the title of this piece for later. I flew to the UK in December 2014 as part of a long term plan, but with a sudden turn around.

Three weeks after a Skype interview, I was teaching at an English school in the middle of winter. Before I continue I should backtrack a little.

images (20)I arrived in the UK before Christmas and ping-ponged between temporary accommodation. This was not a good idea.

Pearl No.1 : Have initial accommodation organised for at least two months. Taking a lease and access to property can be a slow business. It is not uncommon to wait a month after signing a lease to move in and credit checks are the norm.

England has recently undergone a significant number of education reforms or perhaps should I say ‘deforms’ in the schools sector. A new national curriculum has been introduced. It has reduced the number of formal requirements which leaves flexibility. However, the system has two major student examinations called SATs. These are taken very seriously, and must be considered when planning where you want to teach.

support-for-teaching-literacy-and-numeracy-oxford-spires-1215Some schools are more direct about this than others. As well, various organisations provide resources to help with planning and assessment. I found curriculum criteria from Herts for Learning useful, but planning from Hamilton Trust did not sit so well with me as it leapt between topics from day to day.

The staffing arrangements in primary schools that I have encountered are significantly different from Sydney. Most teachers have an assistant for a significant proportion of class time. They are mostly unqualified and poorly paid, but do not underestimate them. As a rule, they are a great help and many have years of experience and wisdom. A real challenge is to direct teaching assistants effectively whilst still trying work out what on earth one is doing.

Some ways in which such assistants can help include; ‘interventions’ where students are taken aside for specific skill support, creating wall displays that can be a compulsory shield against Ofsted inspections and assisting a table group within lessons.

download (32)Speaking of Ofsted, it is important to understand that this oversight organisation has touched school practise in subtle ways, and in not so, subtle ways. The organisation ‘stamps schools’ with one of four levels. There is no ‘just doing fine’. Schools deemed ‘requires improvement’ or worse can face serious sanctions. Capricious inspectors can send a school into a flurry of busy work that often detracts from ‘real learning’.

This is why I want you to know thyself.

Pearl No.2: Individual school circumstances can lead to wildly different cultures and expectations. Ask any prospective school what their focus is on, how they view bookwork and what their planning cycle is.

From my personal experience and preference, finding a school that doesn’t mind hand written or typed plans, that doesn’t want you to provide detailed planning too far ahead is important. Let formative assessment lead the way and let the school executive shield you from Ofsted. There are some amazing teaching opportunities in the UK and like your students, you will also learn a great deal. Good luck.

** Working in an academy school in London @JohnKenny03

I work in an academy school in a low SES area in greater London. I decided to come to the UK earlier this year to have an opportunity to teach my own class and experience a different perspective on education in a new education system.

download (38)Coming to work in the UK you have the opportunity to add skills and knowledge to your practice, and these experiences differ from what is offered ‘at home’. Collecting student data and progression, explicit teaching, reflective practice and collaboration are key themes in schools over here.

Support for new teachers is high and the opportunity to observe (and others will observe you too) as well as discuss practice is ongoing. Professional development is held in the highest regard.

Teaching in the UK is not without its challenges.

Pearl No. 3: Be prepared to have your own philosophy of teaching and learning stretched, to work very hard, to feel a lot more pressure to perform from those above, and to face some student challenging behaviours (but who doesn’t like a challenge?).

images (21)Pearl No. 4: A decision to teach abroad should not be made lightly. However it will be one that will help you grow into a more knowledgable practitioner while at the same allowing you to enjoy a new culture and have an experience of a lifetime.

So, if you are interested in international education, then teaching in the UK  would be a good step in your career development.

My advice is to gain some teaching experience first before deciding to make the move. Once you feel comfortable in your own practice, exciting opportunities await!

Wishing Rob and John every success in the teaching adventures they have embarked upon. I hope to catch with Rob and John again in the new year, in the meantime, I am sure they will keep you updated with their experiences on Twitter.