Dedicated, adaptable, with a sense of humour? Then join us

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Before you make a move to get into teaching, take some advice from people in the know. Raymond Ross talks to course organisers and students

So, you would like to become a teacher and want to know how best to prepare? First and foremost, sell yourself through the personal statement on the training course application form. That is the advice of Catherine Macaslan, head of the school of education at Aberdeen University.

Highlight what is unique about you that you can bring to teaching. Think about what teaching means to society, about the role of schools and what you have done in your life that will enrich your teaching.

Life experience, such as taking a year out or coming as a mature student, is not a prerequisite but colleges do look on it favourably.

Similarly, prior experience with young people or observing in a school is not demanded, but "it does give you a competitive edge", says Nicky Souter, PGCE course director at Strathclyde University.

"Get as much insight into learning and teaching in schools and how it has changed since you were a pupil.

"Students with some school experience or experience working with young people have more realistic expectations. It's about expectations rather than confidence," he says.

"Don't worry about reading educational text books in advance but read The TESS and the education pages in the national broadsheets," says Ms Macaslan. "Try to understand the political issues in education, how policies can be made and influenced."

Liz Clark, the PGCE Primary programme director at Aberdeen University, expresses a common theme. "You have to be dedicated," she says. "You have to recognise you are entering a profession when you enter any teacher training course. It's not about being a student. It's about being professional in all things, from attendance to presentation of work.

"We want students with a flexible approach because education changes all the time. It's not about 'Tell us and we'll do it'. It's about reflecting and coming up with your own strategies."

"In the interview and presentation stages (where students speak on a topic of their own choosing to a peer group and then take questions), we are looking for good communication skills," says Mr Souter.

"We gauge these presentations through the way candidates engage with others.

"At the individual interview we are looking for subject enthusiasm and are gauging ability to work in a school environment."

A lot of prospective student teachers worry about discipline problems, but they needn't. If they really want to teach, there should not be a problem, says Ms Clark.

"The toolkit for classroom management is in the person themselves," says Ms Macaslan.

Prior to the first placement, "indiscipline" is the single biggest fear among student teachers but by the second placement it is a "low concern", says Mr Souter.

And he speaks for all his colleagues when he says: "If you decide to come into teaching, make sure it's a mature decision. Otherwise it's unlikely you will complete the course."

PRIMARY TRAINEES' TIPS TO PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS Teachers in training at Aberdeen University advise:

Adrian Anderson 4th year BEd

"I came here straight from school. My careers adviser organised for me to observe in a primary school while I was in S5 and this proved very important for the interview as a lot of the questions referred to my experience there.

"I'd also highly recommend senior pupils to peer tutor S1s and do as much work with young people as they can. I helped with the local BB youth club.

"We had a short written task to do on our own self-esteem and confidence.

It wasn't a test but was there to ensure suitable guidance if and when you were accepted.

"To prepare for the interview you need to make yourself aware of current affairs and education issue. In-depth knowledge is not expected but awareness is.

"You have to know that you're dedicated to teaching before entrance, not just because you'll always have to develop your own practice as a teacher but because on placements as a student you'll meet with difficult learning situations.

"Most placements are positive and enjoyable but in a way you learn more from the difficult ones.

"Financially, most of us have part-time jobs to help get us through, but you need a job that will allow you six weeks off at a time for placements."

Remony Dickinson 4th year BEd

"Find out as much as you can about the course in advance. I came to do music but swapped to primary after one year because there was too much secondary teaching involved for me.

"To teach you have to enjoy children and want to help them progress. Show them respect and they'll show respect back.

"Coming straight from school, I did work experience in a primary school and also observed in my old primary while at secondary. This gives you an important understanding of what lies ahead.

"Keep up to date on current issues and make sure you have your own questions prepared for the interview.

"Looking back, I should have done more advanced reading on educational matters, so I'd advise that.

"I'd advise students to live in halls of residence for the first year or two, to make friends and find an informal peer support network, which can prove invaluable come assignments and placements.

"I'd say to any prospective student: 'Don't worry'. The support from lecturers and from teachers on placement is there. All are helpful and full of advice. It's honestly nothing to worry about."

Emma Baillie 4th year BEd

"I worked as a special educational needs auxiliary in a secondary school, which prompted me to do teaching. I came for a year and then took a year out to get some life experience, as a supermarket superviser. Work experience like that helps you to be certain and mature about what you are doing. For this course you need to be 100 per cent committed.

"Above all, you need a good sense of humour to teach and you have to be well disciplined and independent because you have to work on your own and you won't be handed the answers.

"Being an SEN auxiliary helped me with my first placement. It gave me more confidence, though being in charge of a classroom for the first time was still quite scary.

"Make yourself aware of the 5-14 curriculum documents and national guidelines in advance. Without actual experience they won't make great sense but familiarisation will help. Talk to teachers, to your old school and get involved."

Mirjam Kastelein 4th year BEd

"I knew I wanted to teach primary by S3, so I did a week of work experience in a primary school as well as helping the dance teacher with a dance group at school. I also helped one period a week with taking special educational needs pupils from another school horse riding. This sort of experience helps with the interview and with going into a classroom.

"A good sense of humour is vital as well as a warming approach to make children feel secure with you. But make them aware you are in charge. This comes through experience and practice, so don't worry about it.

"Read The TESS; keep up to date.

"I would recommend living in halls of residence because you get good peer support, discussions and general confidence, particularly when you are sharing the pressures of placements together.

"I've learned so much here and my confidence has come on leaps and bounds.

And remember, we are all in the same boat, the same frame of mind, and can share and support.

"Accept advice as a way of developing professionally and not as criticism.

Staff here and in schools will be very helpful, have no fear of that!

"But my main piece of advice would be go for it! Enjoy your four years. I feel I've only just started."

Gemma Manson 2nd year BEd

"Take advice from teachers and headteachers in advance of the interview and coming to train.

"The more advance experience you can get the better, anything from babysitting to playschemes. I did two years as a nursery nurse, which proved a huge bonus on my first placement.

"You have to be dedicated. You're working 40 hours a week, plus doing assignments and school preparation.

"I was worried about essay writing but the more you do, the better you get and there's plenty of tutor and peer support. If you really want to, you'll get there.

"Be organised. It helps.

"You need to be respectful of children, friendly and approachable, but know your boundaries. Be positive and honest with them.

"The course soon lets you know whether you're cut out to be a teacher or not, but don't be fazed. If you want to be a teacher, the course will suit you."

Jenny McPhee 2nd year BEd

"If you're not sure, don't come. Do a subject degree and opt for PGCE later, because you really have to want to be a teacher. If you don't really want to, it will come across and the children won't learn anything.

"Observing in a school before coming here is invaluable. Keep a diary of the experience too, for the interview and the future.

"The main qualities you will need to work with children are patience and adaptability to promote different ways of learning.

"I live at home. Make sure you have a work area that has peace and quiet for your assignments. They are the core of the course.

"Don't worry about losing your life and all your free time. You will learn time management and everyone is supportive. Help is always at hand.

"Keep a balance. Don't let yourself get bogged down. Enjoy!"


PGCE students at Strathclyde University say:

Kirsty McKee Art and design

"Get as much experience as you can in advance of coming here. I did two years as an arts worker in museums and a youth club and freelanced in textile design. A lot of emphasis is put on prior experience, certainly with art.

"You have to love kids and the only way to know if you do is to work with them in advance of coming.

"The majority of PGCE students here are mature and for me the two years working was important life experience.

"You have to become super-organised for the year. Placements can be intense, especially if you're completing an essay at the same time.

"You'll get an individual interview with a tutor and a practising teacher and also have to do a presentation to a group about a subject of your own choosing. It's not a test. It's just to check your communication skills."

Sadia Bashir Maths and physics

"The interview and presentation are quite informal and not to worry about. Just prepare.

"I worked for Motorola for two years but knew I'd come into teaching eventually. I think I can relate physics to real life because I've been a professional scientist in the commercial sector and it's maybe important I'm a woman in what is often seen as a male domain.

"I did private tutoring for Highers and Standard grades before coming so that gave me an idea of the different levels pupils were at.

"You need lots of patience and don't take things personally from the kids.

"Draw a line under every day and start afresh. Always focus on the positive.

"Placements are hard work and very tiring but when you get back to college you miss them. You miss the pupil interaction - even the ones who gave you a hard time. You do.

"There's a certain buzz you get. You realise quite early on whether teaching is really for you or not.

"You have to want to do it. Remember the buzz!"

Claire McTavish Mathematics

"I've a friend who came here eight years ago and she helped me through the interview process, so contact anyone with helpful or relevant experience.

"Know your subject. Be confident in it.

"I came straight from university, where you do a lot of living anyway - you work and travel in the holidays - so you don't need outside life experience.

"I didn't do any youth work beforehand but I think I've a nice, chatty, confident personality which comes over in interview and I relate to young people well.

"Don't worry about placements. They get easier as you go. Mine have been fantastic.

"The main thing is you have to enjoy teaching. If you don't enjoy the 18 weeks of placements, you're not going to enjoy the next 30 years!

"You have to be committed."

Andrew Kilpatrick History and computing

"Get in touch with Jordanhill as early as you can. The advice and support is great from the very first enquiry.

"Check your qualifications. If yours is a popular choice, you'll need the highest qualifications. I had a history degree but only a postgraduate course in computing. I had to go to college to do an extra module.

"There are so many mature students here I'd definitely recommend you get some life experience - two or three years. It seems to be a quality that's sought after.

"I was in information technology for a publishing firm for three years but my parents are both teachers and I always knew I'd come to teaching.

"The first day of the first placement is frightening but it soon feels natural. You will develop your own communication and classroom techniques.

"Prior experience is key. I worked with youth groups and sports clubs.

"Make sure your finances are sorted beforehand. Check you can afford it.

"Be prepared to treat this as a vocation from the start. It's not a 9am to 5pm job."

Carol Turnbull Maths and physics

"I'd recommend travel and appropriate work experience to instil independence, confidence and decision making. I took two years out to travel and work, including six months as a special educational needs auxiliary, in order to gain experience for teaching.

"You have to be comfortable around young people and a sense of humour helps.

"Classroom management skills will come with experience but always be prepared for classes.

"My parents are secondary teachers, so I knew just how much work is involved through watching them. As I take advice from them, I'd recommend anyone to take advice from any teachers they know. You'll find teachers on placement especially helpful.

"Placements can be tough but the really good ones are down to the support you get from the school staff."

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