Next step - How do I become ... An education lecturer?

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Strong classroom performers with an interest in theory and pedagogy may benefit from a move to higher education

Higher education. Even the name sounds superior. And for many teachers, the idea of a university lectureship has a certain glamour attached. If you're looking to move into HE, then there are plenty of openings. Most of the lecturers who deliver PGCE courses, or who work in education studies departments, have previously taught in schools. But if you're attracted to a university post because you believe it will offer status, wealth or an easy life, then think again.

"I work as many hours as when I was a teacher," says Dr Rob Freathy, a former RE teacher, now director of undergraduate programmes and lecturer in history of education at Exeter University's School of Education. "I still work at weekends and during the holidays, and while the job isn't physically tiring in the same way as teaching, it can be mentally exhausting. I also earn less money than if I were head of humanities in a large secondary school."

And yet Dr Freathy has no regrets about making the switch to HE 10 years ago. "The problem with school teaching is that it's relentless. You're going from lesson to lesson and there isn't time to reflect. Now I have more head space, more time to carry out research and come up with new ideas. I teach far fewer hours here at the university, and so I have time to prepare thoroughly and make sure that what I do is innovative or exciting. And of course, university students tend to be highly motivated, which makes teaching a pleasure."

University contracts vary widely. Some posts, like Dr Freathy's, are largely research based, and you'll be expected to complete a Ph.D. and to publish academic papers. But other posts are slanted far more towards teaching. For example, Kate Shilvock, associate professor in English education at Warwick University's Institute of Education, says she spends roughly two-thirds of her time dealing directly with PGCE students - lecturing, mentoring and observing them on placements. The rest of her time is taken up with course administration and keeping up-to-date with reports and initiatives. "My contract doesn't specify that I have to do research," she says. "Though there are still opportunities to write books and resources, and to collaborate with colleagues."

When applying for posts, you need to be able to demonstrate an interest in theory and pedagogy, and to show that you understand recent developments in your subject. A masters-level qualification is an advantage, a doctorate even more so. At the least, if you're applying for posts that involve research, you should have clear ideas about possible areas of study. Being a strong classroom performer is also important - and if you're an advanced skills teacher then that will count in your favour.

"Good school teachers tend to make good teacher trainers," says Ms Shilvock, who was an English teacher in schools for 20 years before moving into HE. "What I enjoy most is seeing students come through our PGCE and go on to become outstanding teachers. You know that they are going to influence a lot of young people's lives, and that's satisfying."

Next week: Teacher in an international school

WHERE YOU STAND

SALARY: Lecturers earn between Pounds 25,000 and Pounds 35,000, senior lecturers up to Pounds 45,000, and readers and professors about Pounds 50,000.

QUALIFICATIONS: For a research-based post your degree will probably need to be at least a 2:1 and you may need a masters qualification. On the other hand, you won't need years of experience in the classroom. For teaching posts, a 2:1 may not be essential, but you'll need to have a strong track record in the classroom. Experience of teaching in a number of different schools may also be an advantage.

KEY QUALITIES: An interest in educational theory, as well as the practical side of teaching.

NEXT STEPS: Posts can be advertised at any time of year. Look out for part-time jobs, which you can combine with teaching in school or one-year secondments. In the meantime, try to get involved with mentoring trainee teachers and NQTs placed at your school.

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