First Step - Living the dream

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Opting to become a teacher later in life can be tough, but your life experience may give you the edge

Claire Connick, 26, is married and has a fairly well-paid job with a regional newspaper company. But several weeks ago, she decided that, despite an uncertain economy, she would finally pursue her life-long dream of becoming a primary teacher.

"I haven't been able to get the experience required for a graduate teacher programme (employment-based teacher training) so have decided to apply to do a PGCE," she explains. "I am 100 per cent dedicated to becoming a teacher and am making some serious financial sacrifices to do so."

High levels of motivation are needed to study for a degree later in life and, according to Mrs Connick, this demonstrates her enthusiasm for her new career. "I am going to be out of work for a year, so my husband will have to support me financially," she says. "It will be hard, but based on the limited experience I have, it's what I want to do."

As a mature student, it is likely that your approach to teaching will be different from a conventional student. Having gained a mixture of skills from work, mature students are equipped to deal with difficulties in the classroom with more patience and efficiency than their younger counterparts, says Sue Dixon, head of initial teacher education at Goldsmiths, University of London.

"Many students in this situation have worked in a school setting as a teaching assistant or a similar support role," she says. "From experience, students who have other commitments will be more organised and their priority is to pass so they can work. Many may have had to take a cut in income or their partner will have made sacrifices to support them."

Mature students will have developed many skills through previous experiences - whether bringing up children, working or travelling - which are valuable in a school setting. One of the most common skills they offer is the ability to communicate well with a variety of people.

"Identify what skills you have acquired in previous employment and reflect on how they can be transferable in a school setting," says Ms Dixon. "Mature students can be reassuring to parents, carers and children. They show a commitment to their career and may be more likely to stay at a school as they have children in schools in the area."

Being older than your fellow students can offer advantages, but can also pose stresses and challenges - in either circumstance, it is good to prepare yourself. "If you have childcare responsibilities make sure you sort them out in advance," says Ms Dixon. "Be open to advice and feedback even if you think you may have been working twice as long as the teacher who is mentoring you.

"Be prepared to find the whole experience challenging as you may have to learn in a different and pressurised way and may find it hard. Be open to new experiences."

It is also important to draw on support from your friends and family to help you get through teaching practice and meet deadlines.

Finally, one of the biggest challenges for many mature students is a new ICT system, so consider signing up for a relevant course.

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