Getting a day job: Teaching and Tutoring, Part 2
In Part One I told you a little bit about how I came to be involved in teaching — and sorry, it was rather a long-winded and convoluted route! Here’s some more practical advice: how you can make yourself more employable as a teacher or tutor in your chosen field!
1. Get experience: volunteer.
Experience is vital when it comes to teaching and tutoring, not only to prove to your employer that you’re up to the job, but also to put you through your paces before you start. If you’ve never worked with young people or taught anyone before, it might seem very easy — but trust me, it certainly aint! One of my fellow lecturers once said of teaching school-leavers, “it’s scary and exhausting”, and I’d be inclined to agree — sure, it can also be fun, easy and hugely rewarding, but you need to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
It feels like a vicious circle, though, right? How do you gain experience in this field if you need experience to get your foot in the door in the first place? The answer is: volunteer. Because organisations who need voluntary staff are generally desperate for motivated and hardworking people, they’re far more willing to cut you some slack if you’ve never done this stuff before — being willing to learn is what matters. Voluntary work also adds serious brownie points to your CV; if you’re willing to sacrifice your time without expecting a pay cheque, that makes you a bit special. So where to volunteer? As I said in Part 1, if you’re looking to teach young people, you can try anything from babysitting to working with the Girl Guides or Scouts — even helping to organise youth fundraisers is useful. The trick is to get to know parents in your local area, because word of mouth is a powerful tool, particularly if you want to freelance at a later date. If you’re more interested in teaching adults, volunteer in a library or local community college, and get involved with public art projects. Get to know people, ask where you can help, work hard. It pays off!
2. Get qualified: know your stuff.
Getting qualified does not necessarily mean signing up to do a teaching certificate or PGDE — though these are tried-and-tested ways of entering the world of education, many teaching graduates are currently hanging in limbo as there are just too many teachers and nowhere near enough jobs. One viable alternative is to invest in a more open-ended qualification — a HNC, HND, degree or the like in a core subject like English, Maths, Science or Modern Languages, which creates career opportunities above and beyond teaching and sets you up for a wider range of options. However, being “qualified” to teach is not just about having a piece of paper that tells people you’re clever — it’s about being prepared and committed, and knowing your stuff. Attending an evening class or going to one-off talks and training courses can be a less high-maintenance way to learn the basics — it can also be easier and more informal than committing to a long-term qualification. If you’re willing, you can start at the bottom and work your way up — working as a classroom assistant to start with, for example. There is no harm in getting hands-on classroom experience, and with current class size figures, it’s clear that teaching assistants are badly needed… I frequently wish I had one on hand!
3. Start small: teach one-to-one.
Deciding to become a one-to-one tutor was one of the best decisions I ever made, I reckon. I had never taught formally before and certainly wasn’t ready to be responsible for a class of 25+ teenagers. However, teaching one-to-one within my subject area gave me heaps of valuable tools. I got experience, a strong knowledge of the curriculum, a whole boatload of confidence and more than a few useful contacts… as well as my first teaching paycheque! One-to-one is a brilliant way to start out because you’re safe within your chosen field, you’re only ever dealing with one student at a time, and often — particularly if you’re an out-of-school, extra-support kind of tutor — you don’t have anywhere near as much responsibility as a regular teacher. Also, working with young people one-to-one in particular teaches you a lot about how those pesky kids tick — it’s easier to get them engaged with the work you’re doing, too. The best thing about one-to-one is it’s incredibly rewarding. When there’s just you and the student, you can give them the time and attention they really need to improve, so generally you see them go from strength to strength which is what teaching is (or, should be) all about.
4. Get hired: make yourself visible.
I talked about this a fair bit in part one, so swing back over there to see my tips on finding a teaching job. It’s not as simple as looking for ads in the paper or online — you need to cast your net wider and be willing to look in some fairly weird and wonderful places. You should also consider joining an agency — I have recently done some agency work for the first time and was really pleased with how smoothly things can operate. Pick your agency carefully though — there are conmen out there! If you’re not sure about a particular agency’s rep (and don’t be fooled, they all give themselves stunning write-ups whether they’re any good or not), ask around. Get onto education message boards online and drop the name, see what people say.
5. Be in control: freelance.
Freelance tutoring is a very attractive option for a lot of people, but it is a big commitment and can be harder than more conventional teaching. Firstly, you might want to teach in your own home — fine, but you may hit some bumps in that particular road. If you’re a student or recent grad, chances are you live in rented accomodation, and a lot of landlords have clauses in their contracts to say you can’t run a business from your property. Also, though it’s not essential, it’s a good idea to risk-assess your property, particularly if you’ll be welcoming under 16s into it. This includes making your home safe and um, tidy — parents/potential students will probably want to check you and your teaching environment out before they decide for sure whether they want hire you. And if you live with other people, they’ll need to be cool with you turning their living room into a classroom, AND they’ll all need to have a police background check before you can invite under 16s into their environment. See? A lot of work!
Alternatively, you could teach students in their own home or in a neutral setting like a coffee shop, which side-steps all the official stuff but could potentially put YOU in danger. Be sure to meet potential new students and/or parents in a public space before you go to their home on your own — and even then, you need to be VERY careful. Tell someone where you’re going — the exact address — for how long and when you expect to be back. Tell them who you’re seeing and how you can be contacted. Yes, it’s a drag that you have to do this, but bad stuff happens sometimes — sad but true.
Remember, if you freelance, you also need to do all the running yourself — no one is going to find your clients for you. See point four!
6. Be safe: get a CRB
A CRB (or Advanced Disclosure in Scotland) is a check done by a regulatory body to ensure that you’re fit to work with young people and don’t pose a potential threat to your students. These checks draw on information from police records to make sure you have no criminal convictions — if you do, your CRB may be refused, or you may be called to an interview for futher checks (NB: if you do have a conviction, it may not mean you can never work in education. Obviously some offences are more relevant than others which is why you should always go along if you’re invited to one of these “we need more info” interviews). It can seem a bit insulting, being subject to all this digging — but we’ve all seen the horrifying cases of child abuse and professional misconduct in the news… sadly, it happens, and we all need to play our part in preventing these events. Also, if your employer is a good one, they should be insisting that you have a background check, and not allowing you to work for them if you don’t. If you’ve never been background checked or your CRB is refused, you should NOT be working with young people, full stop. Even if you have no convictions and your employer’s cool with it — even if you do nothing wrong, you could be in big trouble if you’re found out. If you want to be in teaching for the long term, do the smart thing and get checked!
7. Do it because you love it.
Finally, please note! Teaching is not the kind of job you go into if you just want a paycheque and you don’t really care how you get it — it is NOT like flipping burgers or waitressing or filing and photocopying. Sometimes, it is really, really darned HARD. Also, if you go into teaching, you become responsible for the welfare, support and progress of your students — THAT IS A BIG DEAL. I personally believe that it’s also important for you to love the job — if you hate it, you’ll turn into a jaded person and a bad teacher, and you’ll be doing yourself and your students no favours. Teaching isn’t for everyone, so if you start out OK but begin to dread facing the day, it’s time for a career move!
Anything you’d like to add? Any questions? Think I’m wrong, or I’ve missed something vital! Wander down to the comments box and let me know.