Teaching offers the chance to change other people's lives permanently for the better.
As a teacher you can help to develop somebody's subject knowledge and maybe even their mind and personality.
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding thing to do and good teachers are needed everywhere: in schools and college classrooms to educate the young, as well as in the workplace and other settings to teach adults and colleagues.
One-on-one teachers may tutor someone in a particular subject or for their wider personal development.
However, teaching anyone can also be tiring, stressful and demanding. It is a responsibility and any slip up is very visible. People's minds and motivation vary a great deal and teachers have to find many different ways to connect with their students.
Teaching is not always recognised for being the difficult task that it is in terms of status or financial reward.
Skills Needed for Teaching
As well as subject knowledge, there are some other, more general qualities that teachers need.
As a teacher, you should:
1. Enjoy communicating your understanding to others.
There is definitely a performance element to most teaching. Our section on interpersonal skills, including effective speaking, covers this in more detail, and there is a great deal of overlap with presentation skills.
2. Have confidence.
You will need the confidence to look calm and professional even when tired and stressed. See our page: Building Confidence for more information.
3. Have great organisational skills.
Have you prepared for the session and done any marking in time?
Have you kept what is needed for anyone in the group who was away?
If you are part of a teaching organisation, have you fed back results to any interested colleagues?
You may find our page: Organising Skills useful.
4. Work effectively in groups.
In a school or college, you may be part of a group that teach at your level or within your subject. If so, you will have to agree between you what is to be taught and how to deal with any difficulties.
See our page: Groups and Teams for an introduction to effective team working skills.
5. Be able to deal with conflict.
There may be students who need to be told to work harder, or a disagreement between students that you need to help to sort out.
Our page on Conflict Resolution provides some advice on how to do this.
6. Motivate your students to do their best.
This may require encouragement and/ or criticism, and probably a bit of both at different times.
Our page on Motivation Skills provides more information.
7. Empathise with your Students.
If you can see that your students are exhausted, there may be no point in trying to teach a very complicated topic. You need to create a feeling that you are all working together towards the same goal. This means building up trust and rapport.
8. Give feedback.
Whether this takes the form of comments on performance or marking written work, it needs to be constructive. Offer praise as well as criticism whenever possible and tell your students how they can improve.
Our page Giving Feedback will help with this.
The Best and the Worst of Teaching
What's the Best that can Happen?
- You get to tell enthusiastic people about a subject that you love.
- You may have interesting discussions that push you to think on your feet and expand your own understanding.
- You see less-able students blossom and manage to get the outcome they need.
What's the Worst that can Happen?
- Lots of outside work may be needed to mark work or prepare sessions.
- Not all your students will be enthusiastic. Children and teenagers can be surly or downright rude, while adults that you teach may have their own views on things.
Teachers who work with young people can also be accused of inappropriate behaviour with their students: it's probably every teacher's greatest fear.
However, sensible behaviour from teachers – such as leaving the door open when in a classroom on your own with a student – minimises this risk. False accusations are rare and good management should be able to deal with them.
You may possess some, or even all, of the skills listed above having acquired these through other experience.
Many people go into teaching as a second career, for example, people who have been in the armed forces may be used to directing people whilst also attending to their pastoral care, and many other professions need well developed communication skills and coaching skills.
See our page on transferable skills for more ideas of skills obtained through other life experience that might be transferred into teaching.
Deciding What Age Range to Teach
If you like the idea of teaching professionally, there are different settings in which it can be done. Each has their advantages and disadvantages and there is an enormous range of jobs on offer.
Teaching Younger Children
- Primary, elementary or junior school teachers usually teach many or all subjects to their class, so they need to be confident across all subjects to a certain level.
- Primary teachers get to know their class very well indeed, which can be very rewarding.
- You need to be very patient with younger children. They have boundless enthusiasm, but this can be overwhelming at times.
Teaching Older Children
- Secondary or high school teaching requires a real passion for your subject area and a very good knowledge within it. If you did your degree a while ago, you may need a refresher course.
- You will teach a wide range of classes and ages, which means learning more names, but seeing less of particular characters.
- Teaching teenagers means that you have to deal with the phenomenon that is 'cool' – in other words, that it is socially unacceptable for many of them to show any enthusiasm for anything. This can be very frustrating, and teenage mood swings can lead to some awful behaviour.
- However, teenagers can also be very interesting, idealistic, passionate and funny at their best.
- Adults studying for further education are generally well motivated and keen to learn.
- This sector is not always well funded and there may not be many jobs around.
- Adults may also be juggling studying with work and the demands of their families and will need sympathy and extended deadlines from time to time.
In summary, there are good and bad points in all settings. The best way to decide is to do some work experience in different types of school or college to see what you think might suit you. You may have a friend in teaching who can help you to arrange this, but if not just try some institutions in your local area.
Many teachers are very good about encouraging more people to go into teaching.
You need to visit schools to see them from a teacher's perspective: your memories of what school was like as a student are not enough. In any case, education evolves constantly, and it may all be very different to what you remember.
Teaching is brilliant if, at a basic level, you like people and want to encourage them. You will also be doing something of great value.
You probably remember your own best teachers very clearly and you know what they added to your life.