How to become a teacher

Teaching is a gift that allows you to make a positive difference to many lives.

If you want to inspire, encourage, and motivate people of various ages to shape their future through learning, then why not start a new career as a teacher?

There are many people out there who could benefit from your extensive skills and life experience…

What do teachers do?

Teaching is about more than just the transfer of knowledge from teacher to pupil. The best teachers are passionate about what they do and aim to inspire their pupils to fall in love with learning.

For some pupils, learning is fun and comes naturally, but for others, it can be more challenging. Teachers care passionately about helping their students grow and develop which invariably means adapting lessons to make learning as easy as possible.

A day in the life of a teacher can vary greatly depending on the age of the pupils, the subject, and the level being taught, but there are certain teaching practices that typically remain the same. A teacher will usually carry out tasks such as:

  • Creating lesson plans for classes, small groups of children, or individual pupils.
  • Leading classes, workshops, and/or interactive activities to directly engage pupils in learning.
  • Marking and grading assignments and exams.
  • Tracking pupils’ progress and highlighting areas that need improvement.
  • Working with families and other teaching professionals (e.g. teaching assistants) to achieve the best learning outcomes for pupils.
  • Preparing pupils for exams and further education.
  • Motivating pupils to succeed.

Teachers can choose whether to teach in state or independent schools (including academies and private schools).

How are age groups catergorised in teaching?

Teachers can choose to work with a variety of age groups, which are categorised as follows:

Primary school, including nursery and reception

  • Key Stage 0: 3-5 years
  • Key Stage 1: 5-7 years (Exams: SATs)
  • Key Stage 2: 7-11 years (Exams: SATs)

Secondary school

  • Key Stage 3: 11-14 years
  • Key Stage 4: 14-16 years (Exams: GCSEs)

Further education (sixth form/college)

  • Key Stage 5: 16-18 years (Exams: A Levels, AS Levels, NVQs, International Baccalaureate, National Diplomas)

Higher education (universities)

  • 18 years and over (Exams: Bachelors & Master’s degree exams)

What skills do I need to become a teacher?

The right person will:

  • Be an excellent communicator.
  • Be reliable and trustworthy.
  • Have patience, as you’ll be teaching children of all different abilities and with a range of personalities. Some children take longer to grasp concepts than others or may display challenging behaviour.
  • Be flexible – no one child is the same, so you may have to adopt a number of different teaching approaches to cater to the individual needs of each child as best you can.
  • Have effective discipline skills.
  • Have sound knowledge of their subject matter.
  • Be enthusiastic and keen to engage children in your chosen subjects.
  • Be able to build confidence and self-esteem in pupils.
  • Always be kind and have the best interests of each child at heart, regardless of background.
  • Be creative.
  • Be open to working with colleagues who may be twenty or thirty years younger and maybe take direction from them if they have more directly related teaching experience.

What will I love about being a teacher?

  • The opportunity to make a difference to the lives and futures of younger generations. Most people still remember their favourite teachers for a lifetime.
  • You’ll get to keep learning yourself as training is ongoing – and there’s often a thing or two you can learn from the children themselves!
  • Variety – when you’re working with a class of children with a range of personalities and needs, no two days end up the same.
  • The chance to make learning fun.
  • Using your skills and life experience to influence and inspire children and young people.
  • The benefit of time off during the school holidays.
  • Getting to know each child – children are usually full of character and offer a refreshing perspective on life.
  • You can choose what age group you decide to teach and at what level.
  • There are opportunities to teach full or part-time.

What are the challenges of being a teacher?

  • Some children display challenging behaviour, which can disrupt the learning process. But if you work in a school, you’ll usually have the support of a teaching assistant, who aims to provide extra support to you and to any children who need it.
  • Hours can be long as teachers often have to stay after class to mark work and prepare lesson plans. But this work is also very rewarding and you’ll still get the sense that everything you do is contributing positively to the lives of your pupils.

What's life as a teacher really like?

To hear first-hand what it’s like to retrain as a teacher later in life, you might want to read our interviews with Barry (a former music executive) and Frances (a former army colonel).

How much will I earn as a teacher?

Estimated salaries:

  • Primary school: £36,000
  • Secondary school: £39,000
  • Further education: £32,000
  • Higher education: £56,000
  • Head teacher: £71,000

Are there opportunities to progress?

Teachers who want to progress typically move into a more specialised area at a higher level – for example, teaching history at A-Level.

They also may want to move into head of department or deputy head teacher roles. Some teachers also go on to become lecturers at university.

How do I get started?

If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, there are several steps you can take to get you started on your journey to gaining full Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

  1. Why not try volunteering in your local primary or secondary school to see whether you like the classroom environment? You could also request the opportunity to volunteer across a range of different year groups if you’re struggling to decide which age you want to teach.
  2. Consider starting out as a teaching assistant to gain some skills and experience, before doing further training to become a fully-fledged teacher.

The next step in becoming a teacher is to start your Initial Teacher Training (ITT). You can do this through a university-led undergraduate or postgraduate programme, or through school-led work-based training which usually involves working in a school whilst studying for a PGCE qualification at the same time.

The fastest route into teacher training is usually the school-led approach. While you previously had to pass literacy and numeracy tests before you began your ITT, now your fundamental maths and English skills will be assessed as part of this stage of the process.

School-led training designed specifically for people who are retraining later in life...

An option for those who have a great deal of experience in a subject area – but not necessarily a degree in it – is to join a Now Teach programme. With Now Teach, you’ll receive school-led training whilst working towards QTS and will also be supported thereafter once you become a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT).

The Now Teach programme is designed to respect and understand the leap of faith that people take when they consider starting a teaching degree later in life – and its wrap-around support aims to make sure that people remain in the profession long term.

It’s important to note that you’ll need an undergraduate honours degree (usually at least a second class) to join a Now Teach programme. However, there are some cases where candidates without an honours degree will be accepted – particularly if they have a Master’s or PhD.

Other school-led postgraduate training options...

If you’re someone who already has a degree (any degree) at grade 2:2 or above, but it doesn’t come with QTS, then there are numerous post-graduate training courses across the country that you can join.

This will allow you to work in a school and receive a salary whilst completing a qualification. School-led training approaches are a fantastic way to put everything you’re learning into practice, but always check that your chosen course comes with QTS and doesn’t require you to do any further study.

Undergraduate teacher-training degrees

Although school-led training is the fastest route to gaining QTS, if you have the time and money, you may want to take the more traditional degree route.

If you don’t already have a degree at grade 2:2 or above, then you can gain QTS by completing one of three undergraduate degree types below:

  • Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree (with QTS) – suitable for people looking to become primary school teachers. This degree focuses on general teaching, learning, and academic principles.
  • Bachelor of Arts Education (BA) degree (with QTS) – suitable for people looking to become secondary school teachers in an arts subject (this includes humanities).
  • Bachelor of Science Education (BSc) degree (with QTS) – suitable for people looking to become secondary school teachers in the field of science.

Some teacher training undergraduate degrees do not come with QTS, so always check before making your application otherwise you may be required to do further study. It’ll usually state in the degree title whether QTS is included.

Undergraduate teaching degrees usually come with a lot of financial help. Each course provider will vary slightly on this, so make sure you find out what loans, bursaries, and grants you’re entitled to before enrolling.

If you want to lecture at university level, you’ll usually need to be educated to degree level in your chosen subject and will likely need postgraduate qualifications – such as a Master’s or PhD.

Did you find this page helpful? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation over on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.

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