Schoolzone: Career focus

Career focus

The problem
Teachers have traditionally suffered from the lack of a thorough-going career path, offering them opportunities for self-improvement and professional development as they notch up teaching experience. Too many, once installed in the classroom, have found themselves fairly isolated, with little sense of career progression.

Get some direction in your career
If you are a teacher a year or two into your first job, now is the time to start thinking about which direction you would like your career to take. Do you, for instance, wish to develop the pastoral side of your work in schools, or are you more interested in developing your subject expertise? If the latter, you should keep a look out for relevant subject courses - see the School Improvement Agency for listings.

Don't wait for your head of department or head teacher to suggest these to you; and you may need to be reasonably assertive in explaining why you feel a particular course would be important for you. Make contact, too, with your professional subject association (most subjects have one of these), which can be useful sources of ideas and support.

Advice on advancement

  • Right from the start, take every opportunity to observe other teachers in their classrooms, both in your own school and if possible in others. A good teacher is always open to new ways of doing things, squirrelling away ideas to try out later, and schools are becoming more open to this kind of classroom observation work.
  • Know what you want from your career and know the sorts of opportunities that will help you get there. Perhaps you need to think in terms of applying for a promotion (even if you don't get it) every two or three years.
  • Look for ways of gaining new experience within your school (for instance, helping out in your department or with a year group), but don't hesitate to look for promotion outside. Other schools will often be wanting to bring in new blood and breadth of experience, and if you are only prepared to consider internal vacancies you could be waiting a long time. A sideways move for instance, moving from an 11-16 comprehensive to an 11-18, to gain sixth form experience might also be a good idea.
  • Keep up to date with what is going on in education and your subject in particular.
  • Read subject journals to keep abreast of new research.
  • Think about devoting what spare time you have to gaining a further subject qualification, or even studying for an MA in education. Many institutions offer MA courses that utilise summer breaks, plus the occasional evening and weekend, and can be pursued over several years. An MA is a great asset for an aspiring head of department, showing real commitment, and it is also a minimum requirement for those wanting to transfer into higher education teaching.
  • Lastly, don't neglect your IT skills, a sine qua non for the upwardly mobile subject teacher, and take advantage of whatever courses you can.
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