What it's like to be a secondary school teacher

November, 2022

Lois Hollingworth studied the BA Applied Theatre and Community Drama at LIPA before completing a PGCE and taking up the role of cover supervisor and teacher of drama and theatre studies at a secondary school in Cheshire

How did you get into teaching?

During my three years of study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), elements of the course explored working with young children in an educational setting.

As part of my final project, I was working with local schools in the area to make a difference on the stigmas that arise in young people. This is when I truly believed that I could have an impact on the generation of today.

I then finished my course and applied for a PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) back in my hometown of Manchester.

What did your PGCE involve?

The PGCE consisted of weekly lectures, lessons, observations and CPD (continuing professional development) training. The assignments and lesson planning took up a lot of my time too. However, the support I received from the university helped me manage my time effectively and wisely.

Getting the right work/life balance is a crucial skill you'll learn. I had a three-day teaching timetable, then I had two days with lectures and planning afternoons. This got me into a good routine each week. I also had a part-time job at a bar so that I could support myself financially and switch off from work. I always found this balance was manageable.

What does a typical day as a secondary school teacher involve?

I attend morning briefings with my team or the whole school to go over the week, including any deadlines, CPD, notices and to discover what we want to achieve for our departments and the cohort of the school.

On Mondays and Tuesdays my day looks slightly different as I'm a cover supervisor. I cover any part of the school due to staff absences or meetings that arise. This gives me a full insight into the school as a whole and I'm grateful to see the young people shine across other subjects and not just my main subject, drama.

I also have the role of form tutor for a Year 7 class. I meet with them for 20 minutes a day, to make sure they have everything they need or if they need someone to talk to that isn't one of their subject teachers.

We also attend assemblies and take part in competitions across the school. This allows the young people to work as a team. Then the rest of my week is dedicated to teaching drama to Years 7-13.

I teach KS3 (Key Stage 3), GCSE and A-level. This gives me a variety of learning and teaching, but it also makes each day different for me as a teacher.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

One of my proudest moments in my career was receiving the GCSE and A-level results for drama in summer 2022. They were one of the highest sets of results for the school, which I'm proud to have been a part of and recognised for my hard work and determination.

What's the hardest part of secondary teaching?

Getting the right work/life balance. It's important for everyone to look after their wellbeing and mental health but knowing when to switch off can be tough. This is still something that I'm working on, but I see progression in this each year. However, this has certainly been the hardest part of teaching, as you always want to be better and knowing that what you're already doing is more than enough.

What has surprised you the most about becoming a teacher?

The impact that I have on the young people's lives. That one lesson can really make a positive impact on so many individuals - you don't often realise what you're truly doing. This became apparent to me when the young people would stay behind after class and simply say 'thanks for today, miss', 'I really loved that lesson', 'thanks for listening to me' etc. These are just some examples I hear daily and that really surprised me at the start of this job. It makes you love teaching more and more.

What are three things you wish you'd known before becoming a secondary teacher?

  • There's a lot more admin work than you think.
  • You are not alone - each school provides wellbeing support. Take it if you need it, don't shy away because you're worried it would look negatively on your part.
  • It requires more 'out of hours' attention - you don't just finish at 3pm.

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