It’s a little bit daunting chasing that first job as a newly qualified teacher. I thought I had it all in the bag, we were moving away (again) and I had registered with an agency who had me a placement ready (following a couple of interviews of course) for the end of June to the end of 2013/14 term with a view to starting on a more permanent basis in September. Then everything changed and we are not moving (again), people say I should just force my son to switch schools in year 10 but I’m not going to do that, I would have been mortified if I’d had to switch then besides the schools we were looking at couldn’t even offer him the same GCSE’s and he’s already half way through the syllabus and predicted A’s or A*’s in everything so it just doesn’t make sense at the end of the day.
So I had to do what I had always wanted to avoid and start looking locally for my first teaching job. In a town with one FE college and a full quota of staff in the business department my chances of my ‘dream’ teaching job were not only slim, they were invisible. I had to think wider and broader than that and consider the other subjects I could teach and the other areas I could teach in, both in terms of subject area and geographically within easy commutable distance, even though FE is where I have always wanted to be since I started investigating teaching as a career 3 or 4 years ago. I figured any teaching experience anywhere in my first year will be a positive thing and this is perhaps a wise approach to take, especially if you do have a range of subjects which you could possibly teach.
I decided ultimately to study my masters and to supply teach, in either teaching or support roles. I’d become a little disillusioned with the local college as I’d spent hours completing application forms for posts which were then all lumped into a recruitment fair event which I couldn’t attend as I was out of town at an all day selection event. I wondered about the validity of the posts offered in the usual application process and was told that the recruitment fair was only offering casual posts when the advertisement offered a range of temporary, permanent, fractional and casual positions. It was all very conflicting and to be honest it was off putting and I felt I was wasting my time spending hours tailoring each application for positions which I doubted the existence of. I’m not saying they didn’t exist I’m just saying that the process was very unsettling, I’m not one for unnecessary shifting goal posts and recruitment is often the first face that an organisation presents to potential staff and if that process is uncomfortable it can give a poor impression. When I’ve been responsible for recruitment I’ve considered this as a priority and ensured processes were smooth, welcoming and reassuring, presenting a good first impression to attract good quality candidates.
So, back in May when I was offered the position I first mentioned it was of course on the proviso that I successfully achieved my PGCE and provided necessary certification as evidence of qualifications, the aged O’level and A’level certificates, the OCR’s and RSA’s the University awards and all of the traceable accredited training certificates that I could lay my hands on. Never in my life have I had to prove that I possess O and A levels and after 15 house moves in my adult life certificates had become lost and so I applied to AQA’s really useful and easy to use online service to gather in a few copies. As the cost is £25 for a search and an additional £15 for each document and as my O and A levels and my IT qualifications were all sat with no less than 7 different exam boards this was a costly exercise… very costly. Advice: never lose your certificates no matter how old you get and how irrelevant they seem, protect them with your life. Make lots of copies too and leave some with parents, siblings, in safe deposit boxes, scan them into clouds. Don’t lose them it’s expensive.
That process takes 28 days at least so if you’re in need of gathering together some ancient certification give yourself plenty of time. I’ve had a couple of employers who have said that “as long as the evidence is produced before start of term that’s OK” so it’s not that urgent a requirement and there is some lee way depending on who you speak to.
Where lee way is not granted however is with evidence of the teaching qualification, at least in my experience. Without this I can not start a job. Without this I can not even be considered for some jobs and can’t even register sincerely with some agencies until I have some tangible evidence i.e a certificate or some official document. I studied my PGCE in 2013/14 so I should be able to lay my hands on it right? Wrong. In all truth I don’t even know with 100% surety if I’ve achieved the qualification. For sure all of my grades were up there safely in the pass mark zone and my feedback was great. I achieved ‘outstanding teacher’ status and in terms of undergraduate degree classification (if that’s how PGCE was graded) I would have been safely in the 2.1 zone which was better than I had set out to achieve but none of this is cast in stone of course until the exam board has sat and all awards are rubber stamped and the official notification of achievement has arrived in my hands.
I had no re-sits, no late submissions, no extensions, there is nothing more for me to do but wait. I believe I’ve achieved, I have all faith that I should by now be the proud owner of a shiny new PGCE but I can not prove that to a soul and this is not useful when you want somebody to employ you as a teacher, not useful at all. It’s as bad as not being able to prove you have a clear DBS check, maybe worse. The two things are hand in hand the most important documents for a wannabe new teacher to have in his or her possession. I have one, not the other. I’m not even an NQT, even though that’s what I call myself. Until I have that document I am not one, I’m an imposter (please have a sense of humour when reading that, it’s meant in the spirit of the tone of this post, tongue in cheek, jest, you know… trying to see the funny side so I don’t lose my will to live).
Time is drawing on, a couple of emails have been exchanged, I don’t understand the delays, my entire cohort awaits with baited breath. Some aren’t bothered, they don’t want to teach at the moment so have no sense of urgency about it and some have jobs already with employers who are trusting that they have achieved (mainly within the institution where we studied by all accounts) but some, like me for instance, are finding progress very difficult. The new term starts in just 10 days or so. I’ve been offered another position but have to accept by tomorrow and part of that acceptance is providing the documentary evidence of my having achieved a teaching qualification. I’m not hopeful. Another one looks likely to bite the dust.
I’ve said before that I believe to fully embrace the PGCE course and placement experience you need to really, really, really want to be a teacher so that you get the most out of it and so that you can put the most into it. Well, again I’ll say that if you can cope with this whole process of application, shifting goal posts, rejection, awaiting evidence, even knowing that you ARE a teacher you have to really, really, really, really want to be a teacher because there could be obstacles at every point in this journey. Some are put there by yourself, confidence issues, self doubt, being poorly organised and not coping with workloads, taking on too much, misconceptions, a lack of understanding of what your qualification is and what it means to you as a future teacher but some are put there by external forces beyond your control, poor information, misinformation, delays, to register or not to register, shifting professional bodies, archaic application processes. This all has to be navigated if you want to get to your end goal. I’m not saying that I’ve experienced all of the above but definitely some and they all make you question if this is the path for you. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it weeds out people who don’t really really really really want to be teachers. I’ve no doubt that for some the transition from student teacher to actual teacher is much smoother.
On the flip side you hear that good teachers are in high demand and that gives you hope, that one day all of your efforts during your PGCE and before it which earned you an outstanding stamp on your forehead will be worth it.