Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Secondary Science Teacher
Approximate salary range for your type of role: Starting salary £22,000
I started off after my PhD in a career of research by doing postdoctoral research in the USA for almost 4 years at Duke University in North Carolina and then Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. I then came back to Sheffield for a research project that I ‘couldn’t refuse’, which was a fun 5 years but at the end of it I wasn’t really sure where to go. I had spent some time trying to find an academic post but I knew I did not have enough papers to secure one. I was also interested in teaching posts at universities but the feedback came back that I just didn’t have enough teaching experience. So I decided to do something about that.
I applied for the Royal Society of Chemistry Initial Teacher Training Scholarship and a PGDE at the University of Sheffield both of which I was accepted on to. After visiting schools to get some experience of what a teacher does I was ready to go.
The PGDE was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. After about 6 weeks of training in the University I was teaching classes or observing teachers teaching. Even on a reduced timetable the work was hard, leaving the house at 7:30 and finishing working at home sometime in the evening and falling into bed. Some days went well, some days you wanted to quit. I did have to stop for a while, but I managed, with the help of some amazing people, to finish the course.
I found myself for the second time in a few years not sure what the next step was. An e-mail from the university tutor changed all that. A small non-profit organisation wanted an after school club coordinator. The hours were not that great but I was hopeful it could turn into more. My role was to facilitate STEM activities in different primary schools around Sheffield. I made so much slime! However, I did get more hours, and started teaching GCSE Chemistry and then Physics to home education students. I even started to teach robotics. I was having fun teaching by using experiments instead of mostly a whiteboard and a few experiments. I was getting asked questions like “What colour are atoms?” and trying my best to come up with an answer that satisfied a really, really inquisitive 6 year old.
Unfortunately this didn’t last. Working for a small company has many benefits: working closely with a small team; getting stuck in with what needs to be done; or learning lots of new things as nobody else can do it. However, job security was not one of the benefits, and due to financial reasons I had to move to a more traditional teacher role in a school. I learned even more about teaching at the non-profit organisation and I wish it could have been different.
A typical day as a Secondary School Teacher is to get into school for about 8, a team meeting before form time and then start teaching. Depending on the school this could be split into any number of lessons; I have 5 each of 1 hour long. Lessons depend on the year group, you might be teaching year 7 one lesson and then year 13 after that. You get a break between lesson 2 and 3, then lunch between 3 and 4. Break might be catching up with some marking or that bit of printing you forgot to do. Lunch you get to grab a quick bite to eat and catch up with colleagues. After lessons, grab that stack of marking and make some lesson plans for the rest of the week.
A lot of people go from academia to teaching, there are many different routes to gaining the essential qualification (see here). Your subject knowledge will be helpful but it is not necessary, you will still need to learn loads. A PhD does not mean you will be a great teacher. But your organisational skills, time management and communication skills will be a great help. You will probably not be ready for behaviour management. Do lots of outreach and work with schools to get ahead.
My top tip, even if you feel lost keep on going as you don’t know what is around the corner.