“You can go your own way”: alternative routes into teaching

Many of our students come from non-traditional routes into Higher Education (HE), such as Access courses in Further Education (FE) colleges but how many have actually considered a career in teaching in FE?

When talking about future career progression, with students who mentioned their desire to enter the teaching profession, the question almost inevitably asked of them is ‘Primary or Secondary’? Further Education, or The Lifelong Learning Sector as it has come to be known, is often not considered.

Presumably this is because almost ALL students, and indeed guidance staff, have been to both a Primary and a Secondary school whereas only a limited number have any experience of FE and so this sector does not always spring to mind.

Variety

In addition to this, there is the common misconception that FE is exclusively the domain of the vocational areas. On the contrary however, FE colleges also provide both A-level and Access* courses and therefore require lecturing staff with a variety of academic subject specialisms.

Many students develop a passion for their subject area and undertake post-graduate degrees, undoubtedly increasing their employability, but still have difficulty in finding positions directly related to their academic studies. Lecturing an academic subject in the FE environment is just one way to stay in touch with your academic specialism without the requisite PhD necessary to become a lecturer in HE.

Alongside a passion for your subject you would need to possess the desire and enthusiasm to pass this on to future students and so versatility and communication skills are essential. FE colleges expect candidates to undertake teacher training if not in possession of a PGCE. However this can be achieved part time over two years alongside teaching commitments. Most also offer mentoring and support from within the department.

Challenges

In the current economic climate the FE sector is of course undeniably stretched and academic departments often exist on a selection of fractional posts. Anyone with a joint honours degree, for example, therefore becomes an extremely desirable candidate, increasing their employability, as they may go on to teach more than one subject.

Having come from teaching in such a background I feel qualified to add a note of caution, that such a profession is certainly not for the faint hearted! Whilst not having to deal with the discipline issues suffered by colleagues in Secondary schools, teaching learners in colleges comes with a host of different challenges. That said, for someone with a real love of their subject area and desire to pass this enthusiasm on and be involved with future student cohorts’ progression to HE, teaching in post-compulsory education can be an extremely rewarding career choice worth your consideration.

*a course which enables those without traditional qualifications to access HE

Jane Gaffney is a Community Programme Tutor for the Partnership Development Office. Before joining the University of Kent she taught on the Access programme for a number of years at a local Further Education college.

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