Becoming an English teacher

How ready are you for your teacher preparation year?

Teacher of English: one of the most important jobs known to humanity.

You will help children become adults; you will help them become successful learners; you will help them lead the life they want to lead. By allowing children the chance to take control over the language they use to think and communicate with, you allow them the chance to take some control over their lives.

This is huge!

To do this well you need to think about what language means to you. How do you use it? How did you learn it? How consciously do you control your use of language?

The chances are that you use language with intuitive skill and confidence. You are able to read, write, speak and listen with sufficient skill to pass the exams and tests required to become a teacher. You use multiple genres of spoken English, intuitively shifting between formal and informal uses of language. You can also be read and write across different genres, including fiction and non-fiction. You might be published, and you may write for pleasure.

Yet you may also have some worries: Is your spelling good enough? Is your grammar good enough? Have you read enough novels? Do you know the major poets? Do you ‘get’ Shakespeare?

Such concerns are common and it is important that you do not let them hold you back. The best way to really get to know something is to teach it, and you are becoming an English teacher. So, guess what, you will quickly conquer your concerns by teaching them!

How, then, can you get ready for your teacher preparation year?

First, some practicalities

  • Have you sorted accommodation?
  • Have you organised your skills tests?
  • Have you sorted funding?
  • Have you sorted clothes (you will need to be dressed appropriately to be in a school, think ‘business-like’), including shoes (I know this sounds silly, but when you are in schools you will spend a lot of time on your feet!)?
  • Have you got doctors and other necessities sorted? (you don’t want to wait until you are poorly to register!)
  • Have you got food sorted for your first week?
  • Have you got IT, pens, folders, notebooks etc?

Some of these sound trivial, but by sorting these things first you will focus more effectively on the major things, like how to become a teacher.

More abstract things to consider

You will spend some time over the summer thinking about what you have let yourself in for. To help guide this process, try to spend some time considering:

  • Why do you want to teach English now?
  • What kind of teacher do you want to be?
  • What values are most important to you?

Don’t spend the whole summer thinking about these things, you will need to get some rest, but do spend some time thinking such things through for yourself. Talk with your friends and family about their experiences of English at school and since school; start making a mental note of all the times you encounter or use written English. You will probably be surprised how often the written word features in your daily life. It is helpful to have an understanding of this so that you begin to understand the crucial part which the written word plays in contemporary life.

How, then, would you cope without your personal confidence and skill? How would you cope if you hated English and did everything possible to avoid using written language? These are challenges which many people face daily and it will become part of your job to help them gain more control over their lives by giving them greater control over language. This is not easy, but it is life-changing and brilliant!

As this blog develops we will introduce more ideas about teaching English and we hope that you will contribute.

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Becoming an English teacher

Focus on Reading

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free – Frederick Douglass

Anyone preparing to begin teacher training this year will be becoming excited, and a little anxious, as we move towards the end of the summer and the start of the new academic year. Just as secondary schools start to gear up during August, when the exam results are released, reported and analysed, so will you be gearing up for the next chapter in your life.

‘Chapter’ seems an apt word here, particularly as you prepare to become an English teacher. Over the next few months you will become completely enveloped in creating schemes of work about teaching novels, poems, plays and non-fiction. Many of these schemes of work will focus on writing, whether that is the pupils’ or the authors’, but all of these schemes of work will necessarily focus on reading as well.

Reading is one of the joys and challenges of teaching English. The chances are that you are a voracious reader. You will probably have books which are very precious to you; books which you return to time and time again; books which can make you sob. For me, these include, ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ (the novel that made me feel like a reader); ‘Moby Dick’ (I’m often “grim about the mouth” to be honest); ‘The Road’ (just read it).

Each one, and the countless other novels, plays and poems which evince a deep emotional response, are located in very particular spaces and times which the text can come to represent. This is particularly, viscerally the case when you hold a specific copy in your hands; my mum’s cookery books are some of my most precious books, even though I rarely use them to help me cook.

However, I am also clear that I was brought up in a very ‘book-friendly’ environment. As a child we had books in the home, which I could physically reach and handle; I had brilliant teachers who encouraged me to read; I had a very good, local library; I had parents who read to me. It is not surprising, then, that I grew up valuing books and reading. Clearly, this is not always the case in every household, and one does not have to look to hard to understand that there are national issues concerning the extent to which people regularly read.

There are many challenges for young people learning to read, arguably particularly for boys (Gender Gap in Reading). They face multi-media alternatives, and the act of reading is rarely seen as the most exciting way to spend time. One of the key challenges for English teachers is to help every child develop the understanding that reading is deeply exciting; incredibly functionally important for everyday life (imagine not being able to read your social media!); and will help young people understand others. These are all vital for modern life, and although reading is not an ‘instant gratification’ fix, it is critical.

We are lucky to live during an era of great literature for children and young adults (Guardian Article), and it is important that we do not always fall into the trap of teaching the texts which we were taught at school ourselves. Our challenge is to teach reading in such a way that it either remains, or becomes, something which children love. This needs to be done in a way which meets, or exceeds, the demands of the various assessment criteria of the examination bodies, and this is perhaps the English teacher’s greatest challenge. How do you teach and assess something which you love?

But this is the challenge which you will meet. We will spend a lot of time talking about reading during the course, and there is an awful lot of writing about reading, including the challenges which young people face when learning to read. To help you become the inspirational teacher who you wan to become you should draw on your reading history (mine began with The Beano apparently), draw on your own reading habits and make sure that you are a reader yourself (I’ve just finished The Underground Railroad – go and read it!).Underground railroad