Case Study: Further Education Lecturer - Joan

What do you do?

I teach maths at a college of further education. I have also taught counselling and information technology.

What is your background?

I did a Maths degree at university and then, afterwards, I did a Certificate of Education.

I got a job teaching in a school and then left when I had my family. I became a full-time housewife and mother for a while, but eventually I wanted to get back into work.

I didn't really want to go back into a school, because I would have to go full-time. I soon realised that there are colleges that also need maths teachers, and so I went on a list for supply teachers for the colleges in the area.

Eventually I got a phone call asking me if I'd like to go in and do some work. So I started teaching one lesson a week.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

My subject is maths, so you obviously need the training in maths at a high enough level.

You need to like working with people, and have a whole manner of skills associated with working with people from different backgrounds, such as patience and flexibility.

There is a lot of preparation work involved in the job, so you need to put in quite a lot of time and energy - definitely lots of energy!

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

I could teach in different settings apart from further education, such as schools or training courses. I don't think I would be able to teach at a higher level, probably not in universities.

It would be possible with the experience I've got to move into management, if I wanted to. We have a marketing department and there are various other management roles that I could do, although I actually prefer to be in the classroom with the students.

I could also write materials that could go on the internet or in text books.

What changes will there be in the future?

There are changes occurring now. Obviously computers have brought all sorts of new opportunities.

The biggest thing at the moment is that we're using interactive whiteboards in the classroom, which are linked to computers and also to the internet, so that we can use any materials that are out there in the classroom to assist learning. We're busy writing materials to go on the computer that we can use in the classroom.

Some people think that you could do without teachers in the end and it could all be on the computer. I don't subscribe to that point of view because I think you very much need the personal touch and direct questions that can have explanations.

It is definitely that area of information learning technology where the biggest changes are coming about, now and in the near future.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

The most challenging part is working with 16-19 year olds who have failed at school, and are coming to us for a second chance. Because they have failed, they often see themselves as failures, especially in a subject like maths. It can be quite hard work to get them to really put their minds to the job in hand.

My experience as a maths teacher could be quite different from some other areas in a college, though. We've got motor vehicle studies, for example, where the students can take a car to pieces, or the computing department, where students love to get in front of a computer.

But certain subjects - and maths is probably the key one - are not popular, so working with disaffected teenagers learning this subject really is a challenge.

Another challenging aspect is to do with the huge number of administrators we have in college. In theory, they make our life easier because they take administrative jobs off our hands. But in practice, by the time you've been through several layers of administrators, the information you gave in the first place can come out somewhat different, and it can actually cause quite a lot of extra work.

So it's a challenge to try and work with the administrators to get the most effective results all round.

Of course, getting students through exams is always challenging!

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

In colleges of further education, we are always crying out for maths teachers. There is a huge demand, which we find hard to fill - especially since schools are considerably better paid than colleges. Very often, teachers prefer to get a job in a school, just from the point of view they can earn more money.

So, anybody with experience of teaching or with qualifications would stand a pretty good chance of getting a job as a maths teacher in further education.

I don't know about opportunities in other departments of the college. Certainly, people tend to stay there for years and years, though we really do need some new, young blood.

What do you like about your job?

One of the things I like best is the fact that I meet a huge variety of people from different backgrounds and of different ages.

We teach anybody from about 14 up to pensionable age, so I meet people who are in jobs already and are just doing a course for interest, right down to people who are doing A levels for the first time.

I meet a lot of people from different countries, because we have overseas students now, and so I have learnt quite a lot about their cultures. We also have a lot of people living in the UK for whom English is their second language, and it's really interesting to find out about their stories.

I enjoy the support part because I have a tutor group, as well as being in the classroom. I support a group of students with whatever other needs they have, whether they are finding learning difficult and need extra support, or whether it's a personal problem, such as housing issues.

I also really like getting to grips with the maths, believe it or not! I particularly enjoy teaching evening classes and A level maths because the students invariably are really interested in what they are studying.

I enjoy teaching adults who are returning to education after many years, and are not too sure whether they are going to manage it. At the end of the year, you can find that some of them have really done well. There is a lot of job satisfaction when you have helped a student to find their feet and to do something they didn't believe they could do.

What do you dislike about your job?

In term time, I find my job takes up a lot of my life. Though, the hours I work are something I kind of like and dislike, for example, I might work until 8 o'clock some evenings and other days I may not go in until lunch time.

In a way, this is good because of the flexibility, but I do find that when I'm not in college, I have to do a lot of preparation and marking and thinking about the job.

Set against the amount of time my job takes, I do appreciate that I have longer holidays than most people in the summer. It may be that lecturers in some different disciplines find they don't have to do the same amount of work at home, but I do a lot of A level and GCSE work.

I have lots of pressures on me to get students to perform well in external exams. We never know what is coming up in the exam, so we've got to be extremely thorough to get them through it. We've also got the pressures of retaining students and getting them to attend regularly, as well as to achieve at the end of their course.

These pressures are sometimes quite hard to balance because when students are 16, they don't have to be in education anyway, so it's a balancing act really to keep the figures as we would like them.

I've also always got constant deadlines - being ready to teach at a certain time over and over again and to get the marking back. If you've got a big set of work to mark, it can get rather boring at times.

What are your ambitions?

Well, I am at the wrong end of my career really to have ambitions, and I wouldn't say I am a very ambitious sort of person anyway. I'm planning to retire in the fairly near future.

But some younger people in further education would be quite keen to get into management and to affect the structure and the running of the college, and there are plenty of opportunities to do that.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Obviously you're going to look for adverts in the papers to begin with, but you can do more beyond that.

It's a good idea to phone or contact individual colleges and tell them what you can offer, and it's very likely that opportunities will arise when someone like you is needed. If you don't hear for a while, then contact them again, because sometimes names on lists get lost.

But a lot of people come into further education because they contacted the college and said they had some specialism - something they could offer - and the day came, not too long ahead, when the college really needed that.

So I'd say pester the college a bit - pester several colleges not one, all the ones in the area - and the chances are that they'll get back to you, and you will be needed.

A day in the life

9:00 am - 11:00 am

Teaching A level Maths class.

11:00 am - 11:15 am

Break.

11:15 am - 12:00 pm

Pastoral tutorial: This is educational support to students in a group setting. Topics might include study skills, time management or healthy lifestyles.

12:00 pm - 12:30 pm

Departmental duties: For example, organising meetings and courses, talking to other staff members, being available to see students and preparing work.

12:30 pm - 1:00 pm

Lunch.

1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Teaching an Access Course Maths class.

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

One to one tutorials with students to discuss progress, identify any problem areas and set targets.

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Departmental duties.

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