If the career of a teacher is an assault course, the training application is the first hurdle.
Get it right and you’re off to a flying start, but trip up and you might never recover.
Tenuous imagery aside, applying is all about presenting the very best version of yourself.
Here are four common mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. ’Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher…’
This may be true but is it a reason to apply to be a teacher? Probably not.
That doesn’t mean you have to cross it out altogether though. Instead, describe the time in your childhood that made you want to teach.
Jan Rowe, head of ITE at Liverpool John Moore’s University, warns candidates against slipping in a meme-worthy opener.
”Beginning the personal statement with an inspirational quote that can be easily Googled or found on a school wall is not a good idea,” Rowe says.
You could try opening your teacher training application personal statement with:
- A description of what you think a good teacher is.
- A summary of a lesson you observed where great learning took place.
- The hopes you have for future students in your classes if you were to become a teacher.
2. Just listing positive attitudes
This is an understandable pitfall: you’re restricted on word count, you’re trying to sell yourself and you want to show you know what qualities a good teacher has.
But endless bragging isn’t the way to do it.
Instead, try explaining times when you’ve had to use those skills. It would be preferable if the example was in a classroom situation with young people but, if not, any relatable situation is good. It’s the classic ”show, don’t tell” approach.
You could also convey you understand the qualities a teacher must have by:
- Describing a teacher’s behaviour and characteristics during a difficult situation.
- Retelling a story about a time you yourself were at school and how it shows the values exhibited by your teachers.
- Explain how, in your experience in schools, you’ve observed successful teachers making progress in their classes by possessing certain characteristics.
3. Presenting yourself as a finished product
The problem with the application for teacher training is that you’re trying to strike a balance between two different stages: a finished product and a total novice.
You don’t want to sound like either, but it’s easy to lean too far and sound like you’re ready to collect your Qualified Teacher Status certificate right now.
So rather than overstating it, scale back. Make it clear what you’ve done and what conclusions you’ve drawn about the challenges of teaching, but don’t try to suggest you know it all before you’ve started.
You can also show you’re ready to start teacher training by including:
- Details of all the work experience with young people you have.
- How your degree relates to your subject knowledge, or what reading you’ve done to prepare your subject knowledge for the course.
- The names of education books or blogs you’ve read (but be prepared to talk about them in the interview).
4. Downplaying your own experience
You might be applying for a PGCE during your third year of university. Or you might be looking to do a Schools Direct training programme after working in industry for a few years. Unless you’ve been working as a teaching assistant, for example, or as an unqualified teacher, you might be nervous that your experience isn’t relevant.
However, there is nothing to be gained from brushing over your lack of experience and trying to focus on other things as a distraction. Instead, unpack what you have learned from the experiences you have had in school settings.
You can also improve your descriptions of your relevant work experience by:
- Arranging for future work experiences and outline your intentions in your personal statement.
- Including exactly what you observed (in terms of subjects and age ranges) if you have had time in a school.
- Including all work experience, even if it was in a different phase to what you’ve chosen to train in. Every experience you've had in a classroom is valuable and you should include it.
5. Focusing on the subject...and forgetting about the teaching
Rowe finds that many applications are submitted from students who can describe in great detail why they love their subject so much, apparently forgetting that, in reality, that is a tiny part of the job of a teacher.
”[It is a mistake to] talk almost exclusively about how they absolutely love their subject, while appearing oblivious to the fact that they will be teaching young people who might not,“ warns Rowe.
”They’re not just going to be teaching physics – they’ll be teaching physics to teenagers. They’ve got to convince me that they’ll like the teenage bit as well as the physics.”
You can demonstrate a realistic attitude to the demands of the job by:
- Balancing out your descriptions of passion about the subject with explanations of why you enjoy working with young people.
- Including a description of a time you worked with someone who was resistant to being taught and what you got out of that experience.
- Explaining how you’ve spent your time with a mix of different students, not just those who are able and engaged but also those with distractions and challenges.
6. Proclaiming you’re a born teacher
If there is one thing teaching requires, it’s hard work. There is as much to learn about the craft of teaching as there is to any other skilled profession. You’re not just born able to do it.
So, what could be more infuriating that reading about someone who says they are ”a natural teacher”?
”A common mistake is when applicants include the fact that they’ve been told they were ’born to teach’ or are a ’natural’,” says Rowe.
”It shows no appreciation that teachers learn, and that learning to teach often requires hard (intellectual and physical) work.”
You can demonstrate you have the right characteristics for teaching by:
- Describing posts you’ve held that have required the characteristics of a teacher, such as being on the student council, a student union representative or being involved in charity work.
- Giving examples of the impact you have had on the lives of young people.
- Explaining how your idea of what a good teacher is might has changed over time _ making it clear you understand the difference between looking at a lesson from a student’s perspective and a teacher’s perspective.