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From PhD to PGCE - advice on subjects and routes?

Discussion in 'Thinking of teaching' started by fleur31, Apr 25, 2018.

  1. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Hi all,

    I'm currently halfway through a PhD in American literature. I've done some teaching at undergrad level and in schools through a widening participation charity and am confident that I want to become a teacher, as teaching is what I have enjoyed the most throughout my PhD and feel most passionate about.

    My degree is in English and French (2.1), masters in American literature (dist.) and I worked in France for a year after university. I am attracted to the MFL PGCE, partially because the funding available makes it the most feasible option, and because I love French and would like to retain it as an important part of my life. However, I don't have a second language, which concerns me - I know PGCE courses 'prefer' candidates to have a second language, but I'm not sure what this means in practice or how this impacts admissions.

    Alternatively, I am considering the Researchers in Schools programme in English, but I can't find it stated clearly anywhere that you come out of the programme with a PGCE. The qualification is important to me as I need to be able to teach in N.I. or Ireland as well as England.

    Can anyone offer advice on which subject and path would be best to pursue?

    Ideally, I would love to be able to teach both French and English to A-level. Is this realistic? Do schools hire teachers with expertise across different departments?

    Thanks for any responses!
  2. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Re. 'I know PGCE courses 'prefer' candidates to have a second language' - that's because schools generally teach at least two languages. The issue isn't being offered a PGCE place, it's getting a job at the end of the PGCE. Look on TES for MFL jobs, and see what they want from candidates. Look at schools in your local/desired area - what languages do they teach?

    Re. 'Ideally, I would love to be able to teach both French and English to A-level. Is this realistic? Do schools hire teachers with expertise across different departments?' - It depends on the school as to what their requirements are - you may get lucky and come across a school that needs a part time English teacher AND a part time MFL teacher, and can combine the two jobs into one. You could always state on a job application that you're open to teaching both. However, at the end of the day schools deploy staff as they see fit, so you could be 'asked' to teach RE or History despite not having the background in it. Also, it's unlikely that you'd be able to teach both French and English from KS3 to A level unless you were in a really small or specialised school - after all, why would an English HOD ignore their best English teachers, the ones with a great deal of teaching experience and proven track records, and instead have an MFL teacher teaching A level? Generally, English Language A level is not very popular, so there might only be a requirement for 1 or 2 A level lang teachers in a given year (depending on the size of the school), and for Literature maybe double that, so there is limited scope. However, if you proved yourself at KS3/4, and made an impression on the right people, you might be given the opportunity. I wouldn't count on it though - instead I think you should seriously consider which subject you'd prefer, because in reality you might not be able to teach both.

    As for training options, I don't know about the programme you mention.
    fleur31 and pepper5 like this.
  3. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    As a teaching PhD who was likewise passionate about teaching during tertiary education, I would caution you to think carefully about what it is that engages and sustains you. Schools are not intellectually challenging workplaces: they are quickly and easily understood and their greatest challenge is to energy and patience levels. Over time, the lack of intellectual challenge and achievement can become quite hollow and disappointing.
    pepper5 likes this.
  4. nighttrace

    nighttrace New commenter

    would you like to teach in the state or independent? In the independent sector a qts is not mandatory and usually the school can support you to do a pgce whilst you are teaching.
    pepper5 likes this.
  5. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    I presume you have also looked at Teach First. Regarding the PGCE, If your university has an Education department that offers ITE go and talk to them, else make contact with another who offers MFL/English as a PGCE and they'll be able to give you some specific advice.

    Researchers in schools, as far as I know, allows you to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), but doesn't offer a separate qualification like the PGCE.

    I realise you've done some WP work, but have you spent any extended period of time in a school? If not, I would recommend contacting a local school (pref with a 6th form) and inquire about the possibility of coming in for a week to shadow a teacher and help out. As you're at a university already, if there is ITE provision there talk to the school placement manager or if not your central outreach/WP team will have good contacts at local schools.
  6. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Hi all, thanks so much for your replies! You've given me a lot of helpful info and advice. For clarity, I applied for PGCE places before my PhD - was accepted, but then got PhD funding unexpectedly so put off the PGCE. At that stage I spent a week shadowing teachers at my former secondary school (with sixth form), and the school work I do now consists of two hours of seminar-style teaching per week for seven weeks each term. I'll look into additional time at different kinds of schools locally. In short, I know that I enjoy working with younger age groups and the classroom environment.

    I've spoken to a careers advisor and PGCE admissions at my university but haven't had detailed advice so far, so I'll have to get back in touch in a more focused way.

    blueskydreaming, thanks so much for all of that info! That makes a lot of sense. I understand that teaching both English and French would be highly unusual. However, would an MFL PGCE alongside my English lit-related postgrads theoretically allow me to apply for both English and French jobs, or would I be limited to MFL positions? I've heard that once you're qualified, you're qualified, and you can apply for jobs beyond your PGCE subject - is this true, or an exaggeration? I'd be happy teaching either subject, but I'm keen to make myself as employable as possible, hence targeting a shortage subject by taking French up again.
  7. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    If you are a qualified teacher, schools can deploy you how they see fit - so, you could teach English with an MFL PGCE. (One strategy, by the way, might be to target schools with high EAL intakes, and you use your MFL teaching strategies to teach English to EAL groups.) However, what it means is that the obvious route for emplyment for you is to get a job as a French teacher first, then push to be given some English classes on your timetable once in post.

    Also.... have you thought about learning another language? The level of Spanish required to teach at KS3 is not very high - if you speak French at degree level it will not take you long to get your head around Spanish at all (the grammar follows near identical rules; many words are cognates with French and/or English). I say this as somebody who learned Spanish as an adult having previously studied French at A level.

    Also, whatever you decide, speak to your PGCE course leader and to your Associate Tutors at your school placements - they may well be able to arrange for some of your teaching allocation to be spent in the English Department, so that on your CV you can show you have taught both. Can't hurt to ask!

    I disagree with this entirely - there's the intellectual challenge of exploring and adapting different pedagogical theories, plus opportunities for action research. Then, from a subject perspective, there's the challenge of taking complex ideas and making them both accessibkle/relevant to KS4 or even KS3 students. I would say the difference is the broadness of the challenge, rather than the singluar focus on one area of interest.

    Good luck!
    Stiltskin and fleur31 like this.
  8. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Thanks tb9605, that's pretty much what I was hoping! I'll bear those ideas in mind. That's good to hear about Spanish - I'll make beginner Spanish my summer project!
  9. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    I disagree with your disagreement entirely but acknowledge the important point that one person's idea of challenge is another person's idea of tedium.
    tb9605 likes this.
  10. Mazod

    Mazod Occasional commenter

    Be careful if thinking about Teach first. It's not accepted as a qualification for teaching in Scotland so worth checking it would be in NI/Rep of Ireland.
  11. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Thanks Mazod, that's my concern with non-PGCE routes - there's no shortage of teachers in NI/ROI and the training process is stringent, so the traditional PGCE route seems the best in terms of mobility and employability. If it's not accepted at all in Scotland, that's a pretty strong indicator!
  12. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Technically you could apply for any teaching job once you have the PGCE, however in reality if you've trained to teach MFL you will have missed out on learning all of the standard ways of approaching English at secondary that you explore on placements and at uni workshops, how marking and feedback are generally done, all of the little hints and tips that you pick up from your placements and peers, all of the knowledge about the curriculum and progressing students through it... My sister is an MFL teacher, and I'm an English teacher - approaches are quite different, the curriculums are very different, e.g. GCSE French has a translation element, whereas in Lang you need to analyse the language/structure of an unseen text, and in lit answer a question about the plot/characters/settings in Jekyll & Hyde whilst also including contextual info and quotes. Of course, all of these things can be learned on the job, but you would be competing against people who have all of this experience and knowledge because they have trained to teach secondary English. So, if you applied for English jobs during the PGCE then schools would probably be dubious about your appropriateness. How would you prepare an interview lesson, having never taught an English lesson before? Furthermore, in politest possible terms, a phd in American lit is not very useful for KS3 or 4 English, because we generally study British texts (see the curriculum and GCSE specs), and we do so at what is a comparatively extremely superficial level.

    Your best bet is to pick either MFL or English, then once you have secured a job in that subject, and have completed your NQT year, try to get some hours in the other subject. Make it known that you're willing and able. Show that you're a reliable team player. Jump on any opportunities. At a previous school one of the English teachers was actually qualified to teach PE; however PE jobs are like hens teeth, and in a school with recruitment issues he was willing to try something new, and it worked out well for him.

    Be warned that the PGCE and NQT years can be very tough, so trying to focus on 2 subjects might not be a good idea. Also, once you have a couple of years under your belt what schools care about is your ability to get results at GCSE and AS/A level - you need to have results that you can talk about, so again you could find yourself limited because results in French don't translate into results in English Lang and Lit.
    Last edited: May 5, 2018
  13. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Thanks for your reply blueskydreaming - I really appreciate the detailed info and advice you've shared. Everything you've said makes sense, especially focusing on one subject area during training, and maybe then trying to get a few hours in an additional subject with a few years' experience behind me.

    Incidentally, as an English teacher, do you think or have you ever found that training/a qualification in teaching English as an additional language could be helpful, in terms of developing pupils' abilities in using and analysing language? I found that studying French improved my English, because I understood the mechanics of the language better, so it crossed my mind that it might be a useful course to take ahead of the PGCE in either subject. Perhaps it would really only be useful for teaching English to pupils with a different first language?
  14. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I did CELTA about 10 years ago, because I used to teach EFL. It was useful in cementing language terminology for me, and being able to identify and explain student errors (e.g. subject verb agreement is an issue with this student, this is a gerund etc.) and so on. I didn't find it useful in actually teaching British kids, because first of all they haven't been taught about subject verb agreement or gerunds in English, and secondly the kind of terminology they need to use in the GCSE is related more to word choice, imagery, structure and so on. If you end up teaching non-native speakers mixed in with your KS3/4 students you will find that their understanding of this terminology is dependent entirely on where they've come from, and when they came (at what age), so not really useful in this respect either. It's not possible to try to incorporate EFL teaching into a KS3/4 classroom, as EFL teaching is very structured - you need to know present tense before you can learn past tense, for example. It's better to learn by immersion once they are thrown into British schools at secondary age. As you will discover if you do the PGCE, there is no government guidance on how to treat, assess and monitor new arrivals.

    I currently live in China, working at an international high school, and all of the kids I teach are either Chinese or Korean. We do not teach EFL at my school (it's a selective school, so they're meant to already have a good grasp of English) - we teach a reduced KS3 (1 year), then iGCSEs in lang and lit, and iAS/A levels in lang and lit. My EFL background is useful because I can identify the problems they have, and point them in the direction of self improvement (e.g. you have problems with conditionals, you need to focus on past perfect).

    I speak Mandarin, and that has helped me to understand English better, as well as see where language 1 interference comes into play as far as my current kids are concerned, and lots of Asian languages make similar mistakes as they are constructed similarly so I guess this will be useful when I leave China.

    If you want to help yourself the best thing you can do is get a variety of experience. Before my PGCE I volunteered at a SEN school, visited 2 PRUs (pupil referral units), and volunteered at a primary school too (to see where they've come from). During your training you will be teaching all abilities, including SEN kids, and you will be dealing with poor attitudes and behaviour, especially if you teach French (What's the point, I'm never going to France). Get as much exposure as you can.

    Only a very small percentage of teaching is about subject knowledge. The rest is about learning from your own experiences, and your ability to build rapport with the kids, engage them and help them learn.
  15. fleur31

    fleur31 New commenter

    Thanks very much blueskydreaming, that's really interesting and helpful!

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