Best job in the world?

I can’t help but think I’ve had several lucky breaks in my career. By rights, I shouldn’t really have the immense privilege of leading the PGCE Secondary Science programmes at the University of Southampton. There should have been a queue round the block for my job when I first became an ITE tutor. If there had been, there would almost certainly have been someone with more skill as a teacher, a stronger track record to show for it, and a lot more experience working with trainee teachers in a school setting. As it was, I was in the right place at the right time, with someone to tell me the job was being advertised (I don’t think it was in TES), and the flexibility to respond at fairly short notice. Sometimes life just throws you these things: best not to drop them!

For next academic year, starting September 2020, I’m expecting that job to again be available. This time I’d like to see that queue round the block. Maybe you should be in that queue. Let me try to persuade you why the chance to work with me is not the only reason to apply.

Working with trainee teachers is hugely rewarding. At the start of each academic year, you start with about 40 bright, articulate, capable graduates, from all sorts of backgrounds but mostly without much of an idea what being a science teacher is all about. By the end of the year, you are working with the same people but they’re now proper teachers. I don’t think they actually grow taller or finish puberty during the year but it’s the same as when your Y10s go from children in September to something approaching grown-up by July: you can actually feel it!

You miss out on being fully part of a school community, but to compensate you get to dip into the communities of dozens of partner schools. In working with science mentors, you get to work with some of the best science teachers across a wide partnership, in all sorts of different settings. I had worked in five different schools and a sixth form college as a classroom teacher but still really had no idea of the ways in which things differ from school to school until I did this job.

The university has its own community, of course. Christian Bokhove is probably the colleague you may have come across on Twitter, in Impact, or at ResearchEd, but it’s not so long since I was working with Daniel Muijs (before he turned to the dark side). If you have a particular interest in the environmental and socio-scientific elements of biology you have probably read something by Marcus Grace, if it’s ASD then Sarah Parsons is an internationally authority, and so on.  Meanwhile, elsewhere on campus this is the place where cochlear implants were refined, the British Cycling team come to crouch in wind tunnels, the optoelectronics that you are using right now were invented, SERS was first recorded here (one for the chemists!), and whilst there is only one public lecture in astrophysics and gravity theory by a Nobel laureate each year, there is a lot of other cool stuff going on all the time.

Compared to working in a school, the variety is perhaps similar to an assistant head. The time constraints I think, a little more relaxed. With a child at primary school and a wife working sometimes inconvenient shifts, the often flexible hours have been a real benefit. If you don’t have children, you could even take the occasional holiday in term time. There is no typical week. It doesn’t happen often but I’ve taught 30 hours of physics and had weeks with no teaching. I’ve been in 7 different schools seeing 6 different trainee teachers. I’ve had weeks when I’ve saved one potentially terrific career when it was all going pear-shaped, and supported another trainee to choose to leave when it was the right thing for them. I’ve interviewed people who are going to be better teachers than me, and others I wouldn’t let anywhere near a science classroom. It’s almost unrelentingly interesting.

Downsides? Obviously there are a few. I do miss aspects of classroom teaching. The Subject Knowledge Enhancement course we run is the only real opportunity to do any sustained science teaching, and there are only two weeks of that now. Of course we use science contexts for nearly everything we do with trainee teachers but that’s not the same as teaching science. The USS pension scheme was equivalent to TPS when I joined but has been undermined since, and the industrial dispute over this is rumbling on. A grade 3 from Ofsted would almost certainly close our ITT provision although, apart from that, job security is now quite good I think. I don’t like having to drive around to schools; it never seems like a productive use of time and the emissions bother me somewhat. There are A LOT of emails to deal with. The mentoring in schools is always at arm’s length. We work mostly with fabulous mentors who put masses more time into the role than they get back from their schools but there are times when it would be so much easier if we could just have the trainee teaching in our classes, in our school, and solve the problem ourselves. Some of my colleagues are a bit slack about emptying the dishwasher…

The post isn’t confirmed yet. I’m just getting the word out in anticipation. I’ll follow up with another post with an idea of the sort of skill set I want to get on the person spec (although I may get over-ruled on aspects of this). And I’ll Tweet like mad when the advert is released.

Pay scales are here and I’d expect the post to be Level 5 Core (purple) Zone.

Exciting times!




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