Dear John: I’d like to take a year out after my PGCE. Is it a wise career move?

Q

I’m a secondary (English) PGCE student and I’ve just started my second teaching placement in Cambridgeshire.  The school seems fine so far and the few classes I’ve taught and TA’d in have gone relatively smoothly and all the staff have given me good feedback.  I also completed my first school placement successfully with a good ‘report’.

Before starting the PGCE in September last year, I spent two years teaching abroad in China and Bangladesh respectively.  China was more of an EFL role as the English level was quite low, but I still took classes on my own so learned a lot of new skills.  Last year in Bangladesh I was the only English teacher for my classes, was a form tutor, had a lot of responsibility and taught as I would here i.e. language and literature as the English level there was very high.

However recently I’ve been considering taking a year out between when I finish my PGCE (hopefully!) this June and when I could start my NQT year.  I am just not sure that, although I’ve been told I’ve been successful as a teacher and have potential to be even better, that it’s the right career for me.  Or it may be, but at present I just feel burned out and jaded by it all.    At the moment I feel like I don’t have much to give and also that I don’t actually enjoy what I’m doing, except for a few brief moments here and there: in some ways I don’t think is enough and that life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. 

I’m just wondering what you think would be the pros and cons of taking a year out and then apply for my NQT year in 2010.  Would schools question why I’ve taken a year out after my PGCE year, especially if it wasn’t necessarily related to teaching?  If I did take a year out I’d look to ideally doing some volunteer work, perhaps get some experience as a TA and improve my subject knowledge. but also try things I’ve always wanted to e.g. something like publishing e.g. work as an editorial assistant.

I feel I could perhaps push on through to do my NQT year this September, but I don’t want to just ‘push through’ and simply survive it, when I feel like I do right now.  On one hand I feel the year out could allow me to try new jobs/roles I’ve wanted to try but haven’t yet, and reinvigorate me to teach again i.e. complete my NQT year and continue teaching afterwards, but on the other hand I realise if I don’t do the NQT year this year I may never do it, that it may be seen as ‘quitting’ or being uncommitted to teaching, and would be questioned by future employers especially schools.  I’d appreciate your thoughts on this and what any advice you have.

 

A

Bangladesh is a wonderful country and I hope you enjoyed your year there. I often wonder why some many Bangladeshi students do not do well in the education system here. Still, that musing won’t answer your detailed question. My head says, do the NQT year and get induction out of the way so that you don’t have that to worry about. My heart says, go take a risk and do something else. But, there is the present economic climate to consider, and falling rolls in the secondary sector plus the fact that funding for schools will not be as easy in the future and jobs may be more difficult to find.

How much of your ‘jaded’ feeling is the fact that, apart from two weeks at Christmas, you have been working flat out since the start of September and need a break to recharge your batteries? Or, how much is it a realisation that the daily grind of the classroom offers no real challenge after experiencing it already for three years. What made you decide on teaching as a career? Why do you even want to consider a TA role - is this something to do with confidence - you say you were educated overseas, does this mean you did the IB and you don’t say what your degree subject is, but write of improving your subject knowledge - why?

I do wonder if you take the year out whether you will ever come back. With good results from your placement, go talk frankly with your course tutor when the present placement ends about your dilemma and see what they have to say. In the end, you will know what the right decision at the time is. Even if it proves to be wrong subsequently, you can always take another decision afterwards. Not to decide, but to dither, is the fatal mistake.

 

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training and consultancy, including a brief period as a chief government advisor. John is now a recruitment analyst, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and hosts our Career Clinic where you can post questions to him.