Upon qualifying as an ECT, the path ahead can seem daunting and confusing. There are so many things to consider when applying for your first teaching role, what school to apply to, what style of teaching to try out, do you smile before Christmas? (Yes, by the way.) The issue is there are no fixed rules that guarantee that the path ahead will be plain sailing.
The education sector changes so quickly, and every school is so different in their requirements and expectations. The one thing that you can predict and control, however, is you! And whilst you shouldn’t underestimate your own gut feelings and initiative, these next 4 pointers should help serve as a guide to help you on your journey into your first placement.
One of the first things to consider is whether you are in a huge rush to tie yourself to your placement so quickly. There is no doubt, once you fully start at a school as an ECT, consistency is key to building and maintaining relationships with students in those tricky first few months, but before you sign on the dotted line it may be a good idea to develop your skills by taking a bit of supply work in different schools. This way you enhance your CV, get to experiment with assorted styles of teaching in different settings, all whilst being able to work flexibly and get real classroom experience, with very few strings attached.
Some ECTs also take the opportunity to work abroad for a year. The way education is delivered internationally varies massively, and there is certainly no harm in gathering ideas and experience, dismissing theories and debunking myths to prepare yourself for the 2 years ahead back in the UK.
Once you have decided that the time is right for you to apply to your ECT school it is important that you approach applying for the right placement – as you might approach buying an insurance policy, or a new car. Unfortunately, there is no site comparison site to help with this, and one-word ratings don’t offer much of a guide, so you will have to do most of the work yourself. Many ECTs have learned the hard way: there is nothing more difficult than promoting values you don’t believe in. So, scour the websites and behaviour policies of prospective schools to see if your values align with theirs.
After you have gathered as much information as you can on what the school thinks of itself, it is so important that you go into the school for a tour. It signals intent to employers, it gives you a little pre-interview to let school leaders know what you’re about (it will likely be a school leader conducting the tour) and most importantly it gives you an opportunity to see what your bones and gut are telling you when you enter reception and immerse yourself into a rammed corridor. How do the students react to you and your tour guide? Do they hold the doors? What is uniform standard like? Can you sense the culture? If you are going to sign up to somewhere for 2 years, it’s vital you enjoy it and feel comfortable, so popping in is a terrific way to sense whether you can do this. It might also give you a chance to meet your potential department and mentors and talk to current ECTs at the school. You can also get a sense of what the school is like in terms of progression beyond ECT, helping clarify things to form part of a longer-term plan.
When you’ve done the legwork, and you application is submitted there are some staple things that will be handy to have in your pocket when it comes to an interview. Look at the background of the school and try your best to map out the journey it's on. Schools are like cruise liners, navigating their way through the murky waters of OFSTED, regulation and curriculum changes. Having some idea of where your ship has come from and the course it has plotted ahead will serve you in good stead when it comes to those tricky aspirational questions. You can gather this data by reading the most up to date OFSTED report, but as previously mentioned, the report and subsequent one word rating is only a snapshot of something much more complicated than weekend in a first class cabin on the top deck. You want to dive deep into the engine room, look for the progress 8 score from the last 6 years, look at the geopolitical context of your school, check the Free School Meal percentage and SEND proportion and the attainment of these pupils, look at options offered and uptake on subjects. When you have absorbed this information, plot your answers around it. Firstly, because it’s impressive and will make interviewers sit up and take you that bit more seriously, and secondly, looking again at that long term plan, it is helpful to have your own aspirations as a teacher set out. Where will you take these students? What will your contribution be? What is your ambition?
Everyone starts somewhere at everything and teaching is no different. No matter what has come before, everything you have done up until this application process has taught you something you can use. The more you have done, the more value you have. From working a late bar shift kicking out awkward punters, to teaching English in a traditional school in Japan, every experience has its value and whilst you don’t necessarily need to bring these up, it is important to have in the back of your mind the fact that you have a unique skill set. Teaching is a profession like no other in that everything is transferrable because anything can happen. So believe in yourself, sell yourself and know your worth.