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First teaching job: What kind of teacher should I be?

So, you want to become a teacher? It’s time to figure out exactly what kind of teacher you want to be before you take the next steps.

What kind of teacher should I be - header

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to be a teacher. Maybe you’re motivated by a passion for education, or you just really enjoy leading and uniting a class. Or maybe you want to try and make society a better place by giving people a voice – education is power after all. 

In addition to these motivations, there are excellent opportunities for travel as a teacher, and teachers have some of the longest holidays out of all possible careers. Who can resist a six-week summer break?

However, it’s important to figure out what kind of teacher you want to become to ensure that your choice reflects your personality, skills and future goals. We’ve created this guide about all the different types of teaching careers to help you on your journey.

Qualities of a good teacher

First of all, you may be wondering whether you have what it takes to be a good teacher. The truth is, people with many different personality types can succeed as teachers, and it’s not one size fits all. However, it might be useful if you have some of the traits below.

  • You’re great at explaining things to people
  • You’re patient and understanding
  • You have the ability to laugh at yourself
  • You see the best in people and have an optimistic approach to life
  • You’re not afraid to use your voice
  • You’re passionate about education
  • You want your job to have a significant impact and purpose.

What kind of teachers are in demand?

Luckily for you, teachers are all in high demand! Primary, secondary and further education teachers are always needed across the UK, and indeed in other countries. A study by the UK department of education found that the increasing population will lead to a rise of 15% more secondary students in 2025 compared to 2018. This means that the demand for secondary school teachers in particular is rising exponentially. 

Subject-wise, schools are always looking for maths and physics teachers with specific training, as there are currently some skill shortages in these areas. So, if you are a lover of maths or physics, this could be your chance to make a positive impact in schools. Additionally, you’ll have the benefit of finding work easily across the country. 

Other than maths and physics, there is a constant demand for more specialised subject teachers such as RE (Religious Education) and language teachers. Languages are sometimes difficult for schools to teach effectively, so if your talent lies in languages, perhaps teaching could be an exciting option.

Regarding the demand for teachers abroad, many countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have teaching on their lists of visa skills – meaning that you could potentially receive a visa to work in these countries based on your profession. There are also many opportunities to work in international schools across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Who do I want to teach?

Who can you see yourself wanting to teach? Do you want to work with young kids, teenagers, adults or students with complex needs? We’ll go over your main options below.

School children

When most people imagine being a teacher, they immediately think of being surrounded by children in a traditional classroom setting. But what qualities are good to have if you want to be a school teacher? 

  • You like young people
  • You have a lot of energy
  • You have patience
  • You must be able to discipline well, but fairly
  • You can explain things in ways children understand
  • You’re a playful person.

There’s also the option to be a teaching assistant in schools if you want to work more closely with individual pupils and you enjoy pastoral care. You also need less formal teaching training, if that puts you off becoming a teacher. 

Special education pupils

If you want to work in a school but you’re also interested in working with children who face learning or psychological disabilities, you might consider becoming a special education teacher. Below are some qualities that might help you thrive in this role.

  • You prefer teaching in smaller groups
  • You want to help children with complex needs
  • You’re happy to adapt conventional teaching methods
  • You might know a specialist skill like sign language
  • You’ll enjoy working closely with other teachers and parents
  • You’re happy to do administrative tasks.

Adults

You don’t have to like children to be a teacher. Or maybe you do like children, but you just prefer the idea of teaching adults – after all, you won’t have to worry as much about discipline or classroom hierarchies. Take a look at the qualities of a great teacher for adults below.

  • You’re passionate about education, no matter what age
  • You’re non-judgemental
  • You’re empathetic but not condescending
  • You can teach different ability levels and ages
  • You’d prefer to specialise in a subject area.

Should I teach primary or secondary school children?

For many wannabe teachers, this is the big question. We’re here to help by discussing the biggest differences between being a primary and secondary school teacher.

Being a primary school teacher

If you like the energy and curiosity of young children, you’re an all-rounder and don’t particularly want to specialise in a certain subject, you might prefer teaching in primary schools. It will also be helpful if you’re patient and understanding, you enjoy preparing your classes and you’re excited to incorporate play into your lessons. 

You can learn more about this in our Social Learning and Collaboration in School: Learning to thrive through play course by The Lego Foundation

Regarding teacher training, you’ll need one of two things. Either an undergraduate degree in teaching such as a Bachelor of Education (BEd) that gives you qualified teacher status (QTS), or an undergraduate degree of your choice, followed by a PGCE (post-grad certificate of education). 

If you only have a QTS you can teach in the UK but not abroad. On the other hand, PGCE courses allow you to teach in other countries. Learn more about this process in our course by Coventry University, Teacher Training: Choosing the Right PGCE for You

If you’re wondering about the average primary school teacher salary in the UK, it differs depending on experience. You can expect to start at £24,373 annually and receive up to £40,490 when you’re an experienced primary school teacher.

Being a secondary school teacher

If you’d prefer to specialise in something but still enjoy teaching a variety of things, being a secondary school teacher might be your perfect job. Ideally, you’ll also be good at communicating with teenagers, and it’ll help if you’re strong-willed and passionate. Secondary school is a time when many students step into the next stage of their lives, and it can be extremely rewarding to help them navigate through important milestones.

Training to be a secondary school teacher is virtually the same as training to be a primary teacher – the main difference is the type of PGCE you need to take. The primary and secondary PGCE are different, so you’ll want to be sure of your choice before you apply to do your PGCE course. Besides that, you’ll also need either a QTS or an undergraduate degree of your choice. The same rules apply to teaching in the UK or abroad.

Regarding the average secondary school teacher salary in the UK, you can also expect to start at £24,373 annually. More experienced teachers can get up to £41,419. 

Should I teach further education?

You generally need a degree or adequate training in your specific subject if you choose to teach further education. Keep in mind that this is not the same as higher education – further education encapsulates all post-16 qualifications below degree-level, whereas higher education is completed at university. 

To be a university lecturer you need to first be an academic and have published work, so you have to be incredibly passionate and sure of yourself. Most university lecturers are also researchers as well as professors. 

Rather than looking at higher education, we’re going to focus on the main types of further education teachers below.

Teaching A-levels

If you want to teach a more specialised subject or a topic in more detail than in schools, you might want to consider teaching A-levels. To make up for the increased difficulty, you’ll need a degree in the subject you’re teaching – a film degree might be a requirement for teaching A-level film.

While institutions can come up with their own training requirements, you’ll need some degree of teacher training, depending on your previous experience and current teaching responsibility. You can take the PGCE or opt for a Level 3 award, Level 4 certificate or Level 5 diploma in education and training. The diploma is the most comprehensive, but you’ll need to have had 100 hours of teaching experience to complete it.

Teaching a diploma or apprenticeship

If you like to teach more practically and don’t enjoy handing out tests or work to be memorised,  you might enjoy teaching a diploma or apprenticeship. They are generally all coursework or performance-based, so you won’t have to worry too much about traditional classroom teaching methods. Instead, you want to teach your pupils the skills to help them thrive in your chosen area.

If you have specific experience in a subject like product design, performing arts, business management, healthcare, sport, programming, public services, childcare, engineering, construction or hospitality, and you want to teach, a diploma or apprenticeship might be a great option.

There’s not a standardised route for becoming a diploma or apprenticeship teacher, but many opt to take the level 5 diploma in education and training for post-16 studies. They take 1-2 years and require 100 hours of teaching experience. However, if you don’t have any hours of teaching experience yet, you can opt for the level 3 award.

What subject should I teach?

Maybe you already know that you want to specialise in a certain subject, but you have a few main areas of interest. Our handy guide below will help you whittle down your options.

School subjects

First of all, what are you most passionate about? Are you good at explaining your passion to others, and do you like it enough to dedicate most of your time to it? How in-demand is your subject? If it’s lower in demand you might need to stand out more. 

Other subjects and private lessons

Teaching doesn’t just start and end in the classroom. You can be a teacher of any subject imaginable. Maybe you know you want to teach but you have a huge passion for art, music or dance. In these cases, there’s no need to work in a school if that’s not what you desire. You can run private lessons, open your own studio or start your own business – the possibilities are endless. 

Obviously, you need to be an expert in your field or be offering something different to what’s already out there to be successful. Whether you need formal training is dependent on your field – ballet teachers need proper ballet training, but you can be a music teacher even if you’re self-taught. Salaries are potentially much more flexible, especially if you’re self-employed.

Should I teach abroad?

The allure of teaching in a foreign country is definitely something that could impact your career choices. You may want to teach abroad as part of a gap year before or after studying for a degree, or perhaps you can see yourself teaching abroad long-term. Some questions to ask yourself first might include:

  • Do you want to incorporate travel and teaching?
  • Are you interested in teaching in an unfamiliar place and learning about different cultures?
  • Can you speak the language of the country you want to teach in?
  • Will you manage being away from family and friends?

The most common way to teach abroad is to gain the TEFL qualification, so you can teach English in a foreign country. To enjoy this kind of teaching, you must like kids, be open-minded, enjoy a challenge, enjoy lesson planning, have great English language skills and be committed to helping your students.

Advice for TEFL teachers

Sheona Gilmour, an early years language expert at the British Council, offered us her advice to those hoping to become TEFL teachers. She said, “When teaching English to very young children, we need to consider the child’s needs in an age-appropriate, child-friendly way. This means getting to know them, for example, having different tables set up (work stations), with either books, puzzles, toys (blocks, Lego, animals, cars), paper and crayons, or plasticine.”

While allowing the children to choose their own activities and play, Sheona suggests that TEFL teachers should expose them to English frequently. She says, “this can be done by providing a running commentary when they are playing. Playing is the equivalent of free practice and it’s not just about playing games.”

“Including free play in a lesson is the opportunity to see what the child might remember from a story or a song and also to observe them in order to gain more understanding of their interests, their development, and the language they can produce.” 

So, if you love incorporating teaching with play, and want to live in a foreign country, being a TEFL teacher might be perfect for you. You can learn more about this in our English in Early Childhood: Language Learning and Development course by the British Council.

Final thoughts

We hope this guide has provided you with a good introduction to different teaching careers – there truly is something for everyone. Teachers are one of the most important jobs in society, and we can never underestimate the power of education

Without teachers, where would we be? If you want to explore the possibilities of teaching and feel more prepared, take a look at one of our courses, Becoming a Teacher. Hope to see you in the classroom!

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