Secondary school maths teacher Jane Goodland went into education after dreaming of a career in scientific research. In this interview, Jane explains why teaching has been a big learning curve for her, and discusses the rewards and challenges of her first three years in the profession.
University: Cambridge University
Degree subject: Maths
A-levels: Maths, further maths, statistics, science, French, religious studies.
What was your very first job?
Teaching maths at the Perse School (a private school in Cambridge)
What did you want to do when you were at school?
I wanted to stay in academia and do scientific research.
What made you want to do your current job?
I made the decision to teach at the Perse whilst I was finishing my master's degree, and at the time I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I interviewed for a job in renewable energy but I didn't have enough of a background in renewables.
During my interview the bit I performed on best was a presentation, and this was something other people had mentioned too, so I started to think that if presenting was my forte then maybe I should be a teacher. However, I didn't particularly like the idea at first and had no inclination to do more training, but I thought I could probably do a year or two in the private sector whilst deciding what to do next.
I thought a private school would have no behaviour issues - this turned out not to be true! If I had realised so much of the job would be about classroom management I am not sure whether I would have taken the job.
How did you get there?
I didn't have to do any extra qualifications or training to get my first job. This is because I had specifically decided I didn't want to do any more studying at that point, so I only looked at jobs that I already met the requirements for.
When I realised after two years at the Perse that I was enjoying teaching and wanted to pursue it, I did my formal teacher training. By that point I was ready to study again.
What is a typical day at work like?
In the morning I get ready to teach - check I've done my printing, and that I have the resources I need and have got homeworks prepared. Sometimes staff are briefed on the week ahead.
I then register my tutor group and talk to them about notices or relevant cultural issues.
When teaching, I am in charge of 15-30 children. Occasionally, I have a teaching assistant (TA) who helps with individual students, and I liaise with the TA.
As well as actually teaching from the front and overseeing tasks, my role in the classroom includes checking homework, dealing with behaviour issues, arranging detentions, checking books, and trying to gauge students' understanding so I know if I am explaining things well enough, or if I am moving too fast or slowly.
After lessons there is a lot of planning to do for the next day, and usually some marking. I also have to contact parents about good/bad things their children have done, and respond to queries from parents.
What's the best thing about your job?
- Being and feeling creative when planning lessons
- When children help each other and I can see that they are learning from each other
- When students say "oh, I SEE!"
- When I find a new way to teach a topic and can see that the students understand it better
- Building relationships with individual students and seeing them improve
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Being responsible for the learning of so many students and trying to do the best for all of them individually. Some students will take responsibility for their own learning and will try to work out where new ideas fit with old ones.
Other students don't, and these are hard to teach because you have to tell them explicitly how the topic links to other things and how to remember it.
It is also very hard when students say "I don't get it", because being stuck is an important part of learning, and they need to realise that they have to be the ones to get themselves unstuck rather than waiting for me to tell them what to do.
What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
You need to be patient, and you need to care, but also know how to distance yourself from the job, otherwise you can get upset by bad days.
It is not essential to have a degree in the subject you want to teach, but I would recommend it because it is so much easier to deal with all the other things if you don't need to worry about the subject side.
You need experience in a school before you can get a place on a training course - use this opportunity to talk to other teachers so you can decide whether this job is for you.
It is physically, mentally and emotionally draining, and not everyone's personality will fit the job. Some people have naturally strong personalities and can control the classroom easily. Other people (like me) are quiet, and have to learn to control the classroom using body language, tone of voice and what they say. It is possible to learn this but it is a long journey and you need to be committed.
You also need to be open to ideas, suggestions, change, and you should keep thinking "am I doing this in the best way?"
What things do you wish you'd known before starting your career?
I wish I had known how much behaviour management is involved in the job. It makes everything harder because activities only work if the students are keen and willing to follow instructions.
I wish I had known how stressful it was! I didn't realise quite how many things I would have to think about all at the same time, and how exhausting that would be.
Now that I have started teaching, I want to continue because I have learnt so many new skills, but if I was at the beginning of my career and knew what lay ahead I am not sure whether I would go ahead with this.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
As I am still at the start of my career, I find teaching stressful. If I am still teaching in 5 years' time I hope that I will feel more relaxed about it and enjoy it more.
Thanks Jane! We think teaching sounds like a challenging but rewarding job. If you agree, find out how you can become a teacher.