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My job explained: Secondary school teacher

Harry Ingham is head of history at a secondary school in Croydon. Read on to find out about the highs and lows of teaching. 

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I'm Head of history at a secondary school in Thornton Heath.  I have been teaching for six years - four in Birmingham and two in London.  One of the most important aspects of my job is ensuring that the curriculum remains relevant and fun for the pupils.  Levels of achievement and behaviour all improve if we succeed in making the subject interesting.  

Why did you become a teacher?

I wanted to help provide the skills and motivation needed for young people to have improved opportunities once they leave school.  Also, we all have fond memories of at least one teacher that was influential to our formative years – I wanted the chance to be that positive influence.  

What qualifications do you have?

After my A-levels I didn’t know what I wanted to do – so I went to university. After completing a degree in politics and modern history in Manchester, I knew that I wanted a job that tackled links between lack of educational aspiration and social disadvantage.  Coupled with this was a desire to maintain a connection with my love of history – teaching fitted the bill.  I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at Birmingham University and then found a school that would support me through my NQT year.    

Can you talk us through a typical working day?

I normally get into work for about 7.15 and grab a bacon sandwich and mug of coffee.  Then curse my previous evening's inefficiency as I photocopy the resources needed for the day ahead. 

Form time starts at 8.15 and I’ll take the register, read out notices and remind my wonderful form about uniform expectations in the school (‘No John – one shoe and one trainer is not an acceptable compromise.’)

8.30 to 10.30 I’ll be teaching the first two periods of the day – could be anything from The Romans to Al-Qaeda and terrorism. 

The obligatory teacher’s mug of coffee at break-time and last minute preparation for the next two lessons.

10.50 to 12.50 is lessons three and four, which are equally varied. 

Then lunch (once a week I’m on duty on the fields).

1.30 to 2.30 is the last lesson and then I see my form again for afternoon registration or assembly.

After school there will either be a meeting, targeted mentoring or I’ll be taking the Year 9 cricket team to a match.  To stay on top of marking, I will then have to mark books / exam papers for an hour and plan future lessons.  Typically, I’ll get home for about 6 (having not done the photocopying for the next day...!)

What are the highlights of your job?

I absolutely love my job.  Without a doubt the highlight is being able to work with such a diverse group of young people.  They make me laugh every day. Nothing gives me a bigger sense of satisfaction than seeing a child develop into a young adult and thinking that I have made a contribution in that process.

When you find out about the problems that some young people in our society encounter, and then they still manage to develop into kind, intelligent hard-working young people, it is truly humbling.

Friends of mine talk about being bored at work – there are many adjectives I’d use for my job and, on a bad day, some of them would be pretty damning, but ‘boring’?  Never.  

What are the most difficult parts of your job?

It can be incredibly stressful and frustrating.  Some pupils have serious behavioural issues and convincing them that they don’t need to behave in negative ways can be a long and draining process.

The workload is immense.  There is always more that can be done and it’s essential to maintain a sensible work/life balance to avoid ‘burnout’.  I am lucky enough to work in a school that recognises this, but the expectations on teachers in some schools are unreasonable.

What advice would you have for anyone who wants to become a teacher?

Gain some work experience in schools.  Seeing the classroom from the teacher’s perspective is very different from your memories of being in school. 

Consider all the different routes into teaching, like PGCE, Graduate teacher programme (GTP) and Teach First.  Different courses suit different people.

If you are committed, enthusiastic and resilient – go for it!

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