Careers clinic

26th September 2008 at 01:00
If you've got a problem, you know who to ask - our experts, John Howson and Sara Bubb.

Q: I completed my PGCE in secondary maths three years ago but since graduating I've worked in personal tuition instead of teaching. I now realise that teaching is something I really enjoy but on my PGCE I struggled with lesson preparation and behaviour management. The first has been overcome with my tuition experience, and I feel the second would be overcome if I had just a little bit more training. Is there a suitable short course that would give me the training that I need?

A: Although you doubt yourself, you did pass the course, so you did meet the standards expected of you in this area. If you live in an area with selective schools, and possibly a number of independent schools then, as a mathematics teacher, you will find posts available in these schools. I assume your passion and knowledge of the subject mean that you have no problem with pupils who want to learn? Alternatively, are there any sixth form colleges or FE colleges near you looking for mathematics lecturers?

As to the issue of courses, an internet search may throw up some examples, especially if you look for companies offering in-service and professional development courses. You could also ask the TDA about any local return to teaching courses that might consider offering you a place. Finally, talk with those who trained you about whether there is anything they have to offer and also how big a problem this might be for you. It seems that you might see obstacles where others see opportunities. If you enter teaching, you will have to overcome this barrier and self-confidence is a large part of classroom control.

Q: I left teaching about 10 years ago after working in secondary schools for about four years. I have been thinking of returning, but it's the primary phase that now interests me. I've been told that I'd need to spend a minimum of two terms working in a school voluntarily or perhaps as a teaching assistant and then try to get on a returners' course or into supply teaching. Is there any further advice or input you could offer?

A: The advice you have been given is broadly correct. You have Qualified Teacher Status so you have the right to teach in the primary sector, but there is such an over-supply of teachers in most parts of the country that it is unlikely a school will consider you without primary experience. Parts of inner London may be the exception, but generally the farther north and west you go from the capital the more challenging it will be to change.

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training. He is now a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University.

Q: I teach maths to Years 7 to 13 and am spread across 10 different classrooms. In compensation, my head of department has reduced my timetable from the 19 lessons that the other NQTs do to 15, but I'm worried about the amount of cover I may have to do and am not sure I could cope with covering four lessons a week. Are new teachers exempt from cover?

A: I sympathise with your fear of cover - one of my recurring anxiety dreams is being asked to coach the rugby team. Unfortunately, no teacher can refuse to cover and that includes people on induction. Under your terms and conditions you're expected to do what the head asks of you and that includes covering for colleagues, for the first three days of their absence. There's a limit of 38 hours a year.

New teachers aren't exempt, though it's obviously not sensible to use you at least in the first term. Tell people how you feel, especially the person in charge of organising cover. One solution is to offer to take on some more maths lessons. Another tip is to earmark free periods for induction and arrange to be doing some professional development then - they're less likely to get taken away.

The room issue is also one that makes me hopping mad. Experienced teachers can cope with the inconvenience of moving rooms, but for new teachers this is disastrous if it means that you aren't fully prepared before pupils come in. Again, don't suffer in silence (but don't whinge either. Let your head of department and other staff know how you feel - swapsies can be done. But overall look on the bright side: many people would envy you only teaching 15 lessons a week. Things could be worse.

Q: I'm a newly qualified teacher working in a Roman Catholic school. As a Muslim, I'd like to have the day off to celebrate Eid (on October 1). Will that be ok?

A: You've left it very late for a cover teacher to be arranged, so ask the headteacher as soon as possible. Most schools operate a policy of allowing time off for religious observance - but they don't have to. It might be written into a staff policy. Either speak directly to your headteacher or put the request in writing and perhaps offer to take unpaid leave. If your request is turned down you might want to contact your union for advice.

Sara Bubb was a primary teacher before becoming a teacher trainer. She is now an education consultant, lectures at the Institute of Education in London and has written extensively on induction and professional development.

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