"I soon realised that eight teaching hours was taking up 30 hours or more a week"

28th October 2013 at 15:02

Kate Bohdanowicz, former journalist and newly qualified teacher, writes about her first half term at the chalkface:

"It took four weeks for me to decide to quit teaching. Four weeks to realise that leaving a secure, well-paid job in the media to spend a year and £7,000 training for a PGCE had been a waste of time. Teaching wasn’t for me.

It had started so well. Midway through my year’s training I had already secured a job for when I qualified teaching English part-time in adult education. It was for eight hours a week, which was perfect. It didn’t pay much – it wouldn’t come close to covering the mortgage – but I would combine it with the insecure (but better paid) life of a freelance journalist. After all, eight hours would leave me 32 hours to work on writing, right?

Wrong. I soon realised that eight teaching hours was taking up 30 hours or more a week. There were training sessions, enrolment days, team meetings, target-setting meetings. Each student required their own rainforest’s-worth of paperwork and on top of all that was the marking and planning. And then there was the endless lesson planning...

As a new teacher with two new courses in a new workplace, every lesson plan has to be devised from scratch. I’d spent the summer creating two schemes of work and now I had to follow them. I planned morning, noon and night. And when not writing out plans, I was photocopying. Or laminating. Or scouring TES resources for ideas. I could spend five hours planning and preparing a two-and-a-half hour lesson. When it came to my first lesson observation, I spent 10.

And of course it’s not just creating resources that take up the time. Differentiation, checking learning, embedding maths and ICT – all these have to be covered in every step of the lesson. It really isn’t easy at all. (By the way, the idea that unqualified people can waltz into classrooms and simply teach is laughable and offensive in equal measure.)

I teach literacy and English GCSE. I know what an adverb is and I’m sure you do too. But try and explain it to a group of mixed abilities, in an interesting way that sticks in their minds, and then enable them to demonstrate it in a variety of contexts and you realise this teaching lark is not quite as easy as it sounds.

Working in adult education isn’t the same as being in a school or college. I teach in the evenings mainly, when the support staff have left for the day. There is no staffroom in which to unload and share your woes. There is no NQT mentor. There is no desk for you to leave your folders. I travel between two different venues, lugging around a rucksack of paperwork, resources, marking and stationery. It’s back-breaking stuff.

So when I was given seven days notice of my first observation, I thought I could take no more. I would get it out of the way and leave at half-term.

Then something, or rather a few things, happened that made me think twice. Firstly, one of my students, a former prisoner, told me he’d never known what an adjective was until he’d met me. Then a mum-of-five explained that she’d repeated part of our lesson at home with her 12-year-old daughter. Finally, a painfully shy ex-alcoholic handed me some of his creative writing and smiled when I told him it was some of the most exciting prose I’d read in years.

I talk to my students about their goals and ambitions. Some have specific jobs in mind or university courses. Others simply want to help their children with their homework. They’re all willing to give up their evenings to come to class and sacrifice weekends to complete extra work. They made me realise why I’m doing this. It’s hugely rewarding giving people a second chance, building their confidence and improving their employment prospects.

So, for now, I’m staying."

Read Kate's thoughts as she approached her first teaching job.


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