'Teaching is a secondary option for most people'

18th August 2000 at 01:00
Douglas Blane went to the Scottish Graduate Recruitment fair to ask youngpeople about choosing teaching as a career. The responses were not encouraging.

Not many graduates have been down a mine, inside a nuclear submarine or up in the space-shuttle, but all have spent a large proportion of their formative years in a classroom. So they know the working conditions a teacher has to endure - "We never listened to our teachers, we just mucked about"; "We gave one supply teacher such a hard time she ran out of the classroom in tears" - and they don't like them.

Working with children, irrespective of their behaviour, was a key reason why some graduates and soon-to-qualify students visiting the Scottish Graduate Recruitment 2000 fair at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow were not considering teaching as a career. It would be hard to find a tougher obstacle than not liking children.

But if children and their behaviour were often mentioned as problems, so were teachers and theirs. No one, it seems, forgets a bad teacher. "We had this one guy, a real deadbeat, he told us to take it easy and he'd let us know what to swot up before the exams," said one graduate. "One teacher was really nasty: he enjoyed making you feel stupid," said another.

The poor image of the teaching profession as a whole was often mentioned:

"Teachers are always complaining about the job, moaning about how much work they have to do."

Although some of the graduates had pleasant memories of their schooldays and liked children, many still didn't fancy teaching as a career, often because they didn't think they could do the job. "I'm a good physicist but I don't think I could explain physics to children," said one. "When someone asks me something I can't think what to say fast enough," said another.

A few of the graduates had done a postgraduate certificate in education course and were less than impressed by it. "You want to get in front of a class right away to find out if kids will listen to you," one explained. "Instead they take two months telling you all the things you can do wrong. By the time you do get into a classroom, you're scared stupid."

"I'm not sure I could do it" was such a common theme that it is a wonder there is not a well broadcast initiative to let students try teaching without committing themselves to a year as a postgraduate.

In fact, the Scottish universities do run a variety of schemes with the twin aims of giving schoolchildren a positive picture of undergraduates and providing students with a taste of teaching. In Edinburgh the Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools is supported by all the universities, while in Glasgow both Strathclyde and Glasgow universities have set up their own schemes.

"Just under 100 students this year went into schools for a morning or afternoon once a week for six weeks," says Gill Watt of Glasgow University's Students' Representative Council. "It's voluntary work, part of our student community action programme.

"In some schools students prepared and delivered part of the lesson and in the primaries they would get involved in setting up plays and groupwork.

"Last year only two students said they didn't enjoy the experience. The others came back with various degrees of positive response. Many decided to go into teaching as a career."

Teacher recruitment is becoming increasingly difficult, according to Paul Mayo, deputy director of Glasgow University's careers service. "There's continued enthusiasm for public service work in Scotland, but the best students can get more money elsewhere.

"During the last recession, when opportunities in commerce and industry fell, applications for teaching rose. But in the past few years the economy has picked up again and teacher recruitment has fallen.

"There's an awful truth in there: teaching is a secondary option for most people.

"Right now it's difficult to recruit, particularly in the shortage subjects - maths, physics and computing."

Philip Donnelly, head of information and communications technology at Glasgow University's faculty of education, points out that initial recruitment is not the only problem. "It's difficult to achieve the targets in computer studies, but even after qualifying they sometimes don't stay. We produce only a dozen or so teachers a year and it's not uncommon for two or three to say they have been offered twice the salary in industry for a job with less pressure.

"Another point is that people well qualified in computing sometimes don't yet have the communication skills that a teacher needs. If they do, they're doubly marketable elsewhere."

The total number of pupils in Scottish schools is expected to fall by 10 per cent over the coming 10 years, according to Scottish Executive projections. However, more than two-thirds of Scottish teachers are currently aged over 40, which means there is going to be a large exodus from the profession over the next two decades and recruitment may well have to increase despite falling pupil numbers.

At this summer's recruitment fair, the stands devoted to teaching did not appear to be the most unpopular of the 60 on display: a couple of others attracted fewer enquiries. But most of the graduates I spoke to emphasised the negative aspects of teaching as a career and often had to think long and hard before any good points about the job occurred to them. Only one had heard of the McCrone report and none had gained the impression that changes were afoot that might lead to big improvements in teachers' pay and conditions.

Teaching may never be as thrilling a career as trading in commodities, foreign travel or flying jets, but something needs to be done to spruce up teaching's image among the young people the profession hopes to - has to - attract. If teaching is only slightly more appealing than the prisons service or British Nuclear Fuels at Sellafield, education in Scotland could be in big trouble.


* Chris Anderson (21) Graduated a year ago in media theory and production from Paisley University and works for a marketing company.

There are supposed to be big opportunities in media but a lot of it is who you know.

"So I'm thinking maybe teaching is a good idea. I'm interested in something that's beneficial to people rather than self-centred. Teaching can be fun. When I started this job, I was asked to lead a group that trained young people and that caught my interest.

"I want a job I enjoy. I'm not especially looking for money - if I was, I'd stay in media - but enough to survive would be nice."

John Shields (32) Graduated three years ago in mechanical engineering from Caledonian University, and works for a computer company.

I want to go into primary teaching. I feel I've been teaching people all my life; at school I was the one who helped friends to catch up.

"The money doesn't bother me; it's a secure job, so that balances out.

"I think bad discipline has a lot to do with how you treat children, like if you change the goalposts all the time. And you have to give them some flexibility. If discipline is too tight they get bored."

Pirsharon Gansia (22) Studying child care and education at Glasgow College of Nautical Studies and wants to work with infants.

At secondary school the children are too cheeky and the parents give you a lot of hassle.

"I'm not too bothered about money; it's more about enjoying my job. All the paperwork puts me off a bit - having to write down what you're going to do, then doing it, then writing it down again - but I expect you get used to it."

Tj Singh (22) Recently graduated in law from Caledonian University and has mixed feelings about teaching.

There's a lot that wouldn't appeal to me, like what we did to our teachers - never listening, mucking about, throwing rubbers and stuff. I wouldn't like that done to me.

"I wouldn't mind looking after younger kids because they'd be more controllable. But then if they're too young they start crying.

"What appeals is the chance to leave behind a legacy of my own ideals and thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.

"I'm not sure about the money. What do teachers get paid?" Aimi Tuckwell (21) Recently graduated in psychology from Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh, and would like to go into teaching.

I've been working with a wee autistic boy on a behavioural modification programme from America. It may be expanding over here, so there's a possibility of a job with them. I'd like that.

"I've always been interested in teaching. I know the money's not the best but that wouldn't put me off. I've just done a four-year degree course, though, and don't know if I want to start right back into the whole study thing."


* Natalie Grant (22) Has graduated in psychology from St Andrews University and is uncertain about her future.

I'm just off to Romania for a month, teaching English as a foreign language, but after that I'm not sure. I did tutoring at the high school in St Andrews and special needs babysitting. And I learned sign language, which was great. So I love the whole teaching thing and working with kids.

"But when I was at school some of us - not me, I was the quiet one - were horrible to the teachers. I think that would make me go home and cry.

"We had one history teacher who was amazing. He put in so much effort and we all got such good grades. But he took a lot of abuse and he got paid rubbish to come in when he'd been up late doing handouts to help us get a good start in life.

"I don't know; maybe I'm just not that nice."

* Amir Asghar (21) Recently graduated in engineering from Glasgow University and was making enquiries at the RAF stand.

Flying looks attractive. I don't like the image of teaching - like demonstrations in George Square in Glasgow.

"Also, some of my teachers were really bad - not motivated at all - and that made me think they must take anybody in teaching. The money's not great and that would put me off a bit too.

"We did have one inspirational teacher and he made me think of teaching for a while. But no, I don't think so."

* Kafai Wong (21) Recently graduated in laser physics from Strathclyde University and is undecided what to do.

I've thought about becoming an actuary - that used to be the highest paid job but now it's probably footballers.

"I haven't seen anything today that really appeals. I've thought about teaching and I do like kids, but I don't think I'd make a great teacher - the words don't flow fast enough."

* Julia Sung (20) About to start the third year of an accounts and finance course at Strathclyde University and doubts whether she could teach.

I have a quick temper and I don't think I have the patience to teach kids.

"The other problem is I I don't want to offend any teachers ..." she hesitates, "but looking back, I seem to remember a lot of old-fashioned, wee women."

* Andrew Baxter (21) Has graduated in pharmacology from Aberdeen University and is planning to do research.

My mother is a teacher and she told me if ever I went into teaching she'd kill me. I'll probably do a PhD.

"I've been in and out of schools helping, but I don't like children much. Teaching is a good thing but it's not for me."

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