Have you ever considered a career as a teacher? It’s a career that often features amongst young people’s top career aspirations and, according to a recent survey of the Gen Z generation by The Prince’s Trust and LADBible, teacher was the ranked 5th in the top 10 of dream jobs.
However, according to the Employer 2023 Skills Survey, 59% of vacancies in the education sector are hard to fill, and the latest government data on teacher training shows a drop of 20% in new entrants to Initial Teacher Training in England.
So, why become a teacher?
1. Make a positive contribution to society
We start with a worthwhile reason for getting into teaching. Education is a valuable part of our development as individuals. It opens doors for further learning, employment prospects, financial security and gives us social and cultural capital, helping us to interact positively with the people we meet in different settings. Its value is such that it’s one of the United Nation’s Sustainability Goals – a recognition of its importance in creating equality, and that everyone should have the right to a quality education.
Teachers go beyond teaching their subjects; there are a myriad of topics and activities they could be involved in. They may be taking an assembly about inclusivity or how to recognise fake news one day and another, accompanying a group of students on their Duke of Edinburgh award expedition.
What better way to feel valued than to know that as an educator, you are having a positive impact on shaping the citizens of tomorrow!
2. Make a difference in someone’s life
How many times have you heard someone in the public eye attribute their success to an individual teacher who encouraged them to pursue a particular talent or passion?
Teachers want their students to reach their full potential and they’re well-placed to recognise when a seedling needs to be nurtured. According to a recent survey of students (2023), 40% say role models and teachers have a significant impact on their career plans.
Not every young person is brimming with confidence and having a teacher to give you that gentle nudge is sometimes all it takes to set you on the right track.
3. Be a positive role model
Of course, teachers can be role models too. Let’s have a look at diversity in the teacher workforce - could you create additional positive impact by being an inspiration to your students? Government data shows that the current teacher workforce is 76% female and this rises to 86% for primary and nursery teachers.
With men a minority in the classroom (not always the case in leadership roles), there is a compelling need, especially in primary schools, for men to join the teacher workforce.
Also under-represented are teachers who identify as belonging to an ethnic minority group (currently 15.6% of the teacher population). This is steadily increasing but growth has been slower for Black or Black British teachers over the last 10 years compared to other ethnic minority groups. Positive role models from minority groups can help students feel represented and can raise aspirations.
4. Be passionate about your subject
While primary school teachers need to get to grips with a variety of subjects and have less time for specialisms, in secondary school you can inspire the next generation of mathematicians, linguists or artists, or wherever your expertise lies. Teachers have the ability to ignite a spark in students for a particular subject or topic by demonstrating their own passion.
5. Choose a career for life
Teachers are in high demand! Secondary education teaching professionals in maths and science (mainly physics) in particular have long been a skills shortage in the UK. But there are now shortages in subjects such as computer science and modern foreign languages (and Gaelic in Scotland) too.
Pay is competitive – the median salary for a classroom teacher is £40,300 (Nov 2022); average leadership salaries (excluding headteachers) can rise to £56,800, with headteachers earning £70,800 on average.
There are all sorts of ways in which you can progress your career. It’s possible to become a subject lead or even head of year quite quickly, and there are other ways in which you can gain additional payments for taking on extra responsibilities such as becoming the careers leader.
A career using a teaching qualification doesn’t have to be restricted to an educational establishment. Plenty of teachers change direction but remain within education – they might work in edtech, curriculum development, policymaking or use their skills in a whole host of other careers. They may also choose to teach one-to-one privately.
6. Bring a bit of you to the classroom
While most schools will have a curriculum to follow, you can still bring a personal approach and creativity to the classroom. You’ll develop your own style of teaching and ways to manage the class. Students often respond positively to teachers bringing some of their own personal experiences into the classroom too. There may be some agreed principles to follow as part of the school culture but there’s usually plenty of room to be you.
7. Every day is different
It may be a cliché, but most teachers will say that no two days are the same. The way you deliver your lessons, as well as the content, may change depending on the year groups you teach. You may have specific duties on different days, and when you see lots of young people across the day there’s bound to be someone who makes you laugh and something that presents a challenge too.
8. A profession that can take you anywhere
A teaching qualification can open up lots of possibilities. Digital platforms allow you to teach online to anywhere in the world; alternatively, you could relocate to another country and teach for either a short period of time to experience a different country, or make it more long term.
You may choose to work with students with specific needs – these could be asylum seekers or students with additional needs in a mainstream or special school. Other options are custodial settings or supporting students on a one-to-one basis when they’re unable to attend school in person.
Different locations create different environments too - you could work in a rural, suburban or inner-city area; you might teach in a private or state school, and school sizes vary as well. Every school will have it’s own atmosphere. After a period of time, some qualified teachers make the transition between different types of education – from secondary to primary or further education, for example – it’s a career that can offer many different opportunities.
9. Teaching is not a 9-5 job
There are often misconceptions around the hours that teachers work. It can be tempting to focus on the holidays that teachers get and the school finishing times and think that they get lots of free time. Teachers don’t start and finish their working day when the school bell goes though!
It’s common for teachers to arrive in school early and to stay a little longer after the school day has finished. There’s homework to mark, lessons to plan, spaces to set up and meetings to attend; subject teachers will also regularly need to be available after school hours for parents’ and options evenings.
In addition to these commitments, teachers also need to keep on top of their own continuous professional development – you might be teaching others but you’ll find that as a teacher you’re still learning too.
10. Feel part of a community
Teachers are members of the communities they teach in. They may not live in the same area as the school but they will encounter family members, local employers and other members of the local community throughout their teaching life.
Primary schools, in particular, regularly invite parents, carers and other family members into the school for assemblies, productions, to see displays and to hear the children read. They may also take students out on trips or arrange performances in a local setting. This helps young people to consider their own place in the community but also encourages those who don’t have any personal attachment to the school to recognise its value within the local area.
What do you need to become a teacher?
To become a primary or secondary school teacher in a UK state school you’ll need to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). There are some variations between the four UK nations in terms of the routes, qualifications and teaching standards for gaining QTS but you’ll typically need an undergraduate degree followed by a recognised teaching qualification, or a level 6 teacher apprenticeship. You’ll also need GCSE grade 4 or C in English and maths (or in Scotland, SCQF level 6 in English and SCQF level 5 in maths), and GCSE science if you’re planning on teaching at primary-level.
All training routes involve practical experience in the classroom so you can begin to develop your teaching skills and classroom management in real-life settings. To find out more about the differences between each nation and other requirements you can visit the official teacher training websites for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which also include what you need to do if you have a teaching qualification from another country. It’s also worth seeking out teacher training providers in the region where you live.
Becoming a teacher can be an incredibly rewarding responsibility. Being involved in shaping the lives of future generations and giving something back to the community can provide you with a real sense of accomplishment, and it’s a career many people feel privileged to have.
Helen is an experienced information and careers professional working as a freelance writer and trainer. She writes about careers and the labour market for a wide range of audiences and organisations and aims to produce easily accessible, informative content that reflects the current jobs and careers landscape.