Teaching science: career with a future

Schools face a shortage of teachers in key subject areas and science is among the worst hit: biology has seen a fall of over 25%, physics 30% and chemistry 16% in the number of trainee teachers, according to figures analysed by Professor Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys. Maria Bateson, deputy head of science at Sedgehill School, London, reamins an advocate.

What encouraged you to become a science teacher?
I studied for a science degree at university but knew I didn’t want to be an industry scientist. Voluntary work with children helped me to decide to train as a teacher. Then I worked as a teaching assistant in a school while I waited for my PGCE application to be processed. This turned out to be one of the best things I could have done as it gave me the insight into teaching that I wanted and provided me with a range of experiences and ideas that helped me through my PGCE.

What’s the reality of the day job?
I love my job. It is different every hour of the day, it’s hugely rewarding, it’s challenging and allows me to be creative. I can have fun with the students by trying out new ideas and activities, especially with practical experiments. As a science teacher, I can help students to develop an awareness of the world around them, and to find answers to their questions. I want to inspire my students to want to do things, for example, find a cure for cancer, or win a Nobel prize or even fly to the moon. One of the main ways to encourage children to do this is to ensure that they enjoy science and want to continue learning science through A-Levels and at university.

What’s rewarding about being a science teacher?
There are loads of rewarding aspects to teaching. One of the biggest ones for me is getting to know the students and gaining their trust. Being able to help a student who is struggling to understand a new concept and see the ‘light bulb’ moment when they finally get it. I enjoy scientific experiments as much as the students and like seeing their excitement when they do something well. You can tell when they are really into it because they all want to take photos on their mobile phones to show to their friends.

I feel a tinge of pleasure at parents’ evening when a parent tells me that their child didn’t enjoy science before but now it is their favourite subject and they are achieving their grade. Another great moment is when a student who has been difficult in class comes to me at the end of the lesson and says ‘Thanks.” When a student brings in a newspaper article they’ve found and says: “I thought you might like this , Miss,” always make me feel satisfied. I like to share in students’ success and see their excitement when they do something well. Sometimes the students surprise me such as giving me a round of applause after the Ofsted inspector has left the room.

What’s the highlight of your science teaching career so far?
At my last school in Oxford, we had an ecology area where I took my year 7 students to do some pond-dipping. The students were really excited about the activity and were engrossed in identifying the creatures they had fished out of the pond, but then I saw something that would make the lesson memorable for all of us. Caught in some cricket nets was a distressed young fox cub. I managed to free the fox with the help of another teacher to the delight of the class who were so excited that they told everyone they met. It led to all sorts of questions about foxes and habitats.

What are the challenges?
It can be hugely frustrating when a class doesn’t respond to something the way you wanted them to, especially when you’ve spent a lot of time planning the lesson or making resources. Another difficulty is finding the time to do allthe other stuff: plan, write reports, mark work, attend meetings and anything else that you need to do for the school.

Who should consider becoming a science teacher?
It’s not all long holidays and ‘golden hellos’. Teaching is not a job for everyone, but it helps if you enjoy your subject, like children, have patience, and are willing to work hard. I would definitely recommend working as a teaching assistant first as it will give you a full insight into what teaching is like. Like teaching itself, the PGCE is not easy but there’s no other job I’d rather do.