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School experience - volunteer, cover supervisor/TA, or other

Discussion in 'Thinking of teaching' started by rugbylovingmum, Nov 10, 2015.

  1. rugbylovingmum

    rugbylovingmum New commenter


    I am planning to apply for a secondary PGCE (biology) next year, to hopefully start training in 2017. I know how tough its going to be but I've thought it through and I'm at the point where I need to at least give it a try. I'm putting it off until my youngest is in year 1 so I'm around to get her settled into reception. My dad retires that year too and has offered to help with childcare.

    So I have a year until I start applying and I'd really like to get more school experience in that time. I currently work very part time in an FE/HE college teaching GCSE Biology evening classes and the odd BTEC unit (all adult or post-16 classes) and I will see whether I can increase my hours at the college but they are cutting PTVH staff atm. I have 3 years teaching experience but I have only spent 2 weeks in secondary schools and I'd really like to spend more time in a school before starting my training. I'm just not sure of the best way to approach schools. Ideally I'd like to actually do something useful rather than just sit and observe (I mean be an extra pair of hands for practicals or help with setting up - I realise I can't teach).

    I was planning to apply to schools as a volunteer but I have been told that secondary schools rarely use volunteers. Someone suggested either applying to be a cover supervisor or applying to an agency as a supply TA. The cover supervisor positions all seem to be full time and I'd rather stick to shorter days or 2-3 days max if possible but I'll watch for part time positions. I know my training and NQT years will be VERY full time so I want to be there for some school pick ups, assemblies etc until then. TA positions are very competitive and I'm not sure I have the right experience, even for supply.

    I'd really appreciate any thoughts or any other ideas for ways to get into a school. TIA.
  2. OBakaSama

    OBakaSama Occasional commenter

    Excuse me while I waffle.

    It seems to me that you have experience in FE and want to make the switch to secondary. I notice you state you "teach" those evening classes, and you have three years of teaching experience. Do you have any recognised qualifications for teaching in FE? (I seem to recall that there may be other routes into teaching in mainstream, but not being involved in that age group I'm unsure.)

    Personal experience: secondary is difficult to get experience in, and I was rejected by all schools I contacted. Even personal connections did not get me any volunteering experience, so I wish you luck. (I had to ask one secondary school after another rejection for a TA role about how to gain experience, and was told I should ask at primary schools. However, when applying for secondary TA positions I was then told I did not have relevant experience. In the end I switched to primary due to barriers in secondary.)

    However, given it is secondary you are aiming for I assume you have in mind the subject you wish to teach. It may be worthwhile trying to contact the department head of your chosen subject if you can find contact details. SENCos are responsible for the deployment of TAs in school, though day to day work is with the teachers you work with; so that is also another possibility for contact you could try. I don't know if they still have it, but the then TDA had a student volunteer scheme (Student Associate Scheme) which will allow some experience; I'm not sure if a similar scheme still exists. Perhaps the government website might hold some information.

    Given you have teaching experience, a cover supervisor role would make sense. But given your concerns it seems like a difficult option to take.

    TA positions are very competitive, but with fewer responsibilities. In a sense it is 'easier' than a cover supervisor role with respect to experience.

    As for experience: sometimes it is a non-descriptive reason given to people who fail at gaining the job. I've known people with less experience than myself (no experience in some cases) be given the job. I wouldn't worry about experience with applying for jobs, as they will make a judgement on your suitability from your application form anyway. Aside from using time to make an application, you haven't got much to lose; you may gain valuable experience and feedback if you get interviews for positions. As such, I suggest you try.

    Er...hope there's something of use in there. I'm sure others with more experience will be along soon to give actual advice.
  3. rugbylovingmum

    rugbylovingmum New commenter

    Thank you OBakaSama, there's lots to think about there. You've confirmed my impression that it is difficult to get experience in secondary schools which is a shame. I have plenty of opportunities to observe A level and BTEC classes in the college which is great but I really wanted to get a better idea of what it is like to work in a school.

    You asked about qualifications. I will complete my level 3 and level 4 qualifications in Education and Training this year. These used to be called PTLLS and CTLLS and are essentially the first couple of units from the FE PGCE course but I don't think that they are really recognised outside of the FE sector.

    I said that I 'teach' the GCSE courses - I've always been reluctant to say that I teach and would usually say that I tutor since I don't have any qualifications. However, I am the only GCSE science tutor in the college so I teach all the classes, I wrote the SOW and lesson plans, I plan and carry out all the coursework and assessments, enter students for their exams, write their reports and references, refer them to learning support etc so I wanted to say that I already have experience that may be useful to a school. I know it seems odd to have someone with no qualifications doing all these jobs (I was surprised) but I don't think that it's that unusual in colleges.

    Thanks again for your advice. I'll keep looking for part time cover supervisor roles, contact the HOD for science in the schools in this area and I'll have a look at that scheme you mentioned. I agree with you that I have nothing to lose by applying for a few positions. I hate writing applications so the practice will be useful even if nothing comes of it.
  4. Findlotte

    Findlotte Established commenter

    I had 0 classroom experience and managed to get TA interviews - granted I didn't get any of the positions due to lack of experience BUT I got the interview which is a good thing!

    I'm now working as a Cover Supervisor which is great classroom experience. You mainly learn behaviour management, how to improvise and how to build relationships with students plus have the opportunity to observe fellow teachers or network. I enjoy my job and would advise it over a TA - it's much more hands on and involved with the kids.

    As you already have experience I imagine you wouldn't struggle with interviews. You'd just need to demonstrate how you can adapt your teaching style to younger students. EG, Year 7's are a lot different to teach than Year 11 - attitude and behaviour wise.
  5. OBakaSama

    OBakaSama Occasional commenter

    Quitoon makes good points there, and as they suggest, it is about the skills you can transfer into the roles you are applying for. Having taught in FE there is much you can transfer, but behaviour management will likely be the biggest difference (assuming those in FE actually want to be there).

    Also, don't let my own difficulties in finding volunteer work in secondary put you off. It is anecdotal so your experience could be very different.

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