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What's teaching English really like?

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by thomaslavin16, Jul 24, 2017.

  1. thomaslavin16

    thomaslavin16 New commenter

    Hi there,

    I'm currently teaching English in Thailand and have been for the past 2 years now. I really enjoy so many aspects of teaching, but for many reasons I've always thought of the idea of teaching in England to be out of the question. I have a degree in English lit and creative writing so as far as I can tell that limits me to teaching English (although if I'm wrong do tell), so if I were to come back and get a PGCE it would be for teaching English.

    Thus the question in the title. What I really want to know is the detail of everything; how much pointless paperwork do you have to put up with? Exactly how many hours of marking do you end up doing a week? How much freedom do you have in designing your own lessons? What is the curriculum like? Obviously much of this would depend upon the school, but if you can give any examples that would be good as well. As a side note if you know anywhere else to find this kind of information that would be useful, google searching anything to do with teaching english just turns up TEFL results.

    I'm generally aware that teaching in England these days is a pretty gruelling job, but it's hard to really know how bad it is until you have the details, so thanks for your help.
  2. MissHallEnglish

    MissHallEnglish Occasional commenter Forum guide and community helper

    This thread will give you a good insight... come back with any questions!


    Personally, I couldn't imagine teaching another subject but the marking is a huge pain. The world is a better place without controlled assessments but the 100% exam is a tough new world and I'm sure English (& Maths) departments across the country are waiting on tenterhooks to see what the results are like this summer, given the hours of stress that went into getting this first cohort through the new system.
  3. secretsiren

    secretsiren Star commenter

    I've taught English for 15 years now and been HoD for a good few years too. There are pros and cons.

    Pros: it's a great subject and you get to have those little 'wow' moments when you introduce a child to the world of literature and they find an author or book they love; you get to read as part of the job; if you enjoy the wonders of language and of literature, it's a winner; lots of children love reading and writing, and their imaginations are incredible - it's a real privilege to work with them every day; your colleagues tend to be well read and articulate (for the most part) which makes for really interesting days at work.
    Cons: the marking load is enormous (I estimate that 5-10 hours a week is normal but Mock exams, end-of-year exams and assessments could easily double that workload in English - plus you get no more time to mark than any other subject even if they only spend 3 hours a week marking); as a core subject, we tend to bear the brunt - along with Maths - of curriculum and specification changes very regularly which means a lot of hours working on new units, new resources, research, training yourself, reading very boring guides and textbooks; the school's results are on your shoulders - again, along with Maths - and you have the same amount of time as Maths per week but are expected to teach TWO GCSEs (Lang and Lit); getting children to read and write can be painful, and you often find that other subjects think it is just your responsibility to get kids writing well - they completely forget that literacy is different from English and that they should be equally as responsible for tthe quality of reading and writing in their subject; the new GCSEs are exceptionally dull and quite boring to teach in a lot of ways; the new GCSEs with their statistically referenced results mean you cannot predict results (and yet you will be asked to predict and held accountable for those predictions if you're unlucky enough to work for a very stupid SLT - and most of them are a bit daft when it comes to GCSEs); the stress can be overwhelming for schemes of work, resources, changes, marking etc.

    I wouldn't teach any other subject but unfortunately, I also wouldn't teach at all if I had my time again. It simply isn't enjoyable in the same way anymore.
    pepper5 likes this.
  4. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I taught EFL for more than 4 years before I completed the PGCE in secondary English. Teaching EFL is very different to teaching secondary English. The two main differences are that 1. Teaching secondary English requires you to follow the national curriculum (they NEED those skills and that knowledge in order to complete the GCSEs), whereas in EFL there is no curriculum except for the one that your school creates. 2. If you teach in an EFL cram school the focus is on the children enjoying the lessons, so that they'll pay for another semester. In the UK you're responsible for their progress, your job depends on it, so it's not about them enjoying the lessons, it's about them doing well (although you can still teach 'fun' lessons if you are creative and the SOW allow it).

    Also, foreign kids are taught grammar in a more structured way, whereas British kids are confused when you mention past, present and future tenses. Additionally, the terminology you use in EFL is not always the same as in UK secondary schools, and not usually understood by secondary kids (zero conditional, anyone? Gerunds?).

    Apart from that, management is different - abroad, it's all about chasing money; in the UK, it's all about fear of Ofsted. Management think Ofsted want to see certain things, so they put more and more pressure on teachers trying to get you to do those things. You can be hounded out, or threatened with failure of your NQT year, or put on capability, because a member of management doesn't like the way you do something.

    To answer your questions:
    - you are not completely limited to teaching English at secondary - you could always teach primary, or study some extra modules in another subject (such as with the Open University) in order to boost subject knowledge.
    - pointless paperwork - depends on the school - the one I've just finished at was pretty chilled about that sort of thing.
    - marking - my school this past year had a very reasonable marking policy - I marked all homework (every week, each class), and 'deep marked' minimum once per half term. At my last school you were meant to mark everything every two weeks (nightmare). It's the half termly assessments and end of year assessments that kill you though - I had 100 KS end of year exams to mark (both reading and writing, so 200 exams) in two weeks, which took more than 20 hours. Now, I don't have 20 hours of frees per fortnight, so... It would have been more, but a PGCE student marked one class of 32.
    - freedom - depends on the school. You must teach what they need to know, and you must know your students and meet their needs.
    - the KS3 and 4 curriculum are heavy on literary context and language analysis. Students need to be able to pick a quote out of an extract of A Christmas Carol and explain how it shows Scrooge's presentation, and zoom in on individual words in the quote to say that the listing of adjectives has the effect of creating an image in the mind of the reader, etc. I do not like KS4. It's boring, in my opinion. That's balanced out by KS5 though - a bit more interesting, for me anyway.
    - Google 'English PGCE' rather than 'teaching English'.
    - Google 'KS3 English national curriculum', and 'AQA GCSE English Language/Literature' (other exam boards inc. Edexcel, OCR, WJEC).
    pepper5 likes this.
  5. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    On another forum a newly qualified English teacher referred to their experience as a 'sentence' like a prison sentence.
    blueskydreaming likes this.
  6. thomaslavin16

    thomaslavin16 New commenter

    Thanks for all the replies, lots of information here. I'm going to read into it some more but I think I know enough to say it's not what I want to do now to be honest. It really sounds like the marking load and the constant changing curriculums is particularly bad for English. Hell, I remember the curriculum changing and throwing all our teachers out of the loop when I was in 6th form like 7 years ago.

    I think I'll look into doing some open university course in a different subject and focusing on that instead. I have interest in loads of different subjects so I'm sure I could find something worth pursuing. May even end up dedicating myself to teaching abroad, which I'm still really enjoying.

    Thanks again.
    pepper5 likes this.
  7. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I forgot to add that I am leaving the UK this summer to go back abroad, after only 2 years teaching here. Here's hoping the work load is a lot better over there!
    pepper5 likes this.
  8. inceywincey

    inceywincey Occasional commenter

    Well I don't enjoy it, but I never planned to teach English and wasn't asked. I just found my timetable full of English.
    I am not a specialist English teacher and have no real passion for the subject and the marking takes forever.
    If I had great resources and had studied the subject I think I would enjoy it more.
    pepper5 likes this.

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