Routes to the top: how to plan your teaching career

4th January 2019 at 11:15
route teaching
In the elevator, but not sure which button to press? Planning a career in education is an education in itself. Some experts give us their advice

Speak to any collection of trainee teachers in the staffroom and you’ll no doubt be met with a multitude of different ambitions: Ofsted inspector, pastoral assistant head, special educational needs and disability coordintor, or lead teacher for A level. 

According to a survey by the department for education, a fifth of teachers aspire to be a headteacher “at some point”. 

So, how can I plan my career in teaching?

However, just like the best laid lesson plans, reality might have its own ideas. The career you plan in your NQT year can end up baring little resemblance to what you reflect on as you approach retirement.

Opinions change, situations alter, life happens. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend some time thinking about your career and the direction you want it to take.

How soon is too soon?

Rebecca Foster, a head of English in Salisbury, warns against taking responsibility too soon.

“I would advise teachers to be wary about accepting promotions before they have honed their classroom craft,” says Foster.

“The problem comes when you are given the opportunity for responsibility before you’re ready.”

What is more important, the right job title or right school?

If you are job hunting with a promotion in mind, the school you’ll be working in will always matter more than the job title on your staff lanyard. Tim Taylor, author and experienced primary teacher from Norwich, advises that teachers shouldn’t take the first thing that comes along.

“Be choosy, wherever possible,” says Taylor. “Look for a school that matches your values, because there is nothing worse than working in a school where you are compelled to go against what you believe in. 

Is a ‘fast-track’ course a good idea?

You might come across a programme in your school with an option of a “fast-track to SLT” course. However, Jude Hunton, of Ashlawn School in Rugby would advise caution if you are offered a place.

“I would be wary of any ‘fast-track’ scheme,” says Hunton. “You find that they can be divisive. To progress in your career, you need to put the work in. So, fast-track your career through the choices you make, rather than carrying the person-of-destiny baggage.”

Instead, Hunton would advise seeking out a person to act as a mentor or coach.

“Identify who is really effective and ask him or her to offer you some informal coaching. Try observing as many others in their varied contexts as your spare time allows.”

What are the pros and cons of switching to the independent sector?

Whether you’re planning to switch sectors or it just so happens that an attractive independent school job comes up at the right time, some people may be wary about such a move.

Jonathan Peel, from the John Lyon School in Harrow on the Hill, London, advises that teachers should consider both sides before they make their decision.

“I would always advise teachers to embrace change,” says Peel, “but don’t forget to read the small print: the private sector seems more lucrative and enticing, with smaller classes and shorter terms, yet they will insist on more engagement. This may put you at the mercy of the parents who are paying for success.

“On the other hand, many private schools leave you free to teach, and the ISI inspection process is holistic and non-judgemental on an individual level.”

Can you plan for the family you haven’t got yet?

Many teachers may look at their career and feel uncertain about planning to apply for promotions when they’re unsure about whether or not they will be taking maternity or paternity leave in the near future.

However, Emma Sheppard, founder of the Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher Project, would advise that starting a family and continuing your career are not mutually exclusive activities.

“With the right school culture and leadership team, teaching is one of the most family-friendly professions going,” says Sheppard. “It allows you to spend holidays with your babies and shape the education system that will, in turn, benefit your children. 

“Avoid falling into the trap of what Sheryl Sandburg [chief operating officer of Facebook] calls ‘leaving before you leave’ by thinking you have to plan a career around a family.

“You never know how becoming a parent will affect you,” Sheppard says, “so cross any ‘balancing’ bridges when you come to them rather than allowing thoughts of family to manifest themselves as barriers to an empowering career.”

How long should you stay in the same school for?

Just like any industry, moving on and gaining experience of a new system can be looked on favourably. However, this doesn’t mean that staying somewhere you’re happy is a bad thing. Why? Because no two years in any school will be the same.

The joyful thing about teaching is the fact that we have new faces in our classes every September: a new set of challenges and different experiences. Staying until you’re ready to leave, rather than because a binary deadline has passed, is a better approach and more likely to lead to that holy grail: a good work-life balance.

Ready for the next step on the ladder? Browse the latest leadership jobs.

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