Mark Sharman — Getting the most out of school experience

I have taught at Weydon for almost 20 years and I absolutely love teaching. I began my career as a Geography teacher. I am now Principal of a teaching school partnership and lead the Teach@Weydon teacher training programme, but my favourite moments are still the ones I spend in the classroom.

Teaching is the best career in the world. I firmly believe that. Having worked in a number of sectors, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. I love the vibrancy of schools. I love the psychology of the classroom. I love being there for young people at important decision points in their lives. I have travelled the world on school trips and built close links with the local community. But teaching isn’t for everyone. It is hard, you need to be resilient, you need to be reflective and you need to be absolutely certain that it is for you.

This is one reason why getting high quality school experience is absolutely essential. The Teach@Weydon SCITT offer a school-based PGCE and work with a partnership of around 20 secondary schools in the South East. We are well placed to offer school experience in a range of contexts and from this position of expertise, offer some top tips for getting the most out of your own experience.

Before your school experience begins

We think that one of the most important things to get out of an experience is an insight into the culture of the school and training provider. If you gain an understanding of this, it will help you with many of the decisions you will be making down the line. Perhaps think about what kind of culture you would hope to experience.

So before you begin, think about what you want to get out of the experience.

Are you using the experience to tease out whether teaching is right for you? Are you using it to make yourself known to a training provider and also find out about them? Are you using it as a tool to prepare yourself for interview?

Things to consider:

  • When you research your options, look at schools like ours, which offer teacher training; they should have access to a range of schools in different contexts and help you get access to these. You don’t know where you will end up teaching so make sure you experience as many settings as possible.
  • Read the school web page (and the training provider web page, if there is one) thoroughly .If you have a look at ours you will see just how much information there is to find in advance. Use this to inform questions you might ask during your experience.
  • Find out what exam board the school uses for your subject: consider your own subject knowledge — your strengths and areas for development. Once in school, try to gauge the level at which the topics are being taught to different age groups. This will help you when it comes to interview because you are likely to have to prepare and teach a short lesson.
  • Find out about the dress code of the school and what safeguarding procedures you might have to follow.

During the experience

Imagine this is part of the interview process.

You are on show to the school as a professional, but you are also using the experience to serve your own purpose. If you are preparing for an interview, pay particular attention to strategies the teacher uses in class for differentiating for different needs, how they work with support staff, how they build relationships and manage behaviour, how they engage and challenge students. All the time you observe a strategy or activity, reflect on why it might have been employed at that time.

  • Dress professionally and make sure you follow any safeguarding policies of the school.
  • Be respectful and kind: take time to thank teachers for their time or for letting you observe their lesson.
  • Talk to as many people in the school as possible (while remembering they are busy professionals, juggling many responsibilities!). Talk to trainee teachers, students, support staff, teachers and leaders. Find out about the culture of the school. What is it like to be a teacher or student in that school? What are the highs and lows of teaching? What were the challenges and highlights of the training year and how did they manage these? How are teachers supported with professional development? Do the teachers value this?
  • Everyone will tell you how tough the training year is, but rarely do people believe it. Really interrogate everyone to get the most information you can.
  • If you think you will love it as much as I do, you will overcome the pressures!
  • Get involved! We love it when visitors engage with students about their learning. Ask them questions about what they are learning and how they are doing it. You will need to judge when this is appropriate, and perhaps check with the class teacher if this is OK before the lesson starts. Most will be very happy for you to get stuck in and we expect it, if you are thinking about joining our programme.
  • Ask (in advance) if it is possible to have a school tour at some stage in your visit — perhaps with some students.
  • If you are spending a number of days in school, it may be possible to shadow a student or at least observe lessons from subjects other than the one you want to teach.
  • Imagine how you would feel if it were you at the front of the class: can you see yourself in that role? What kind of teacher do you think you would be?

After the experience

A fundamental aspect of being a teacher is being reflective. Maybe use these questions to help you reflect on your experience:

  • What was the culture of the school and how do I know this? Does it match or exceed what you hoped to see?
  • What are the common themes across each of the schools you have visited and how do these reinforce/challenge your views of what it would take to teach in a modern school?
  • Has your view of the teacher’s role in the classroom and wider school environment changed?
  • How will what you have observed impact on how you might facilitate student learning? (You are likely to have to teach a short lesson episode at interview!)
  • Have your skills, knowledge and attitudes changed as a result of this visit? You may think about this in general terms and in terms of your specialist subject knowledge.

We welcome potential trainees for school experience throughout the year across all secondary subjects. If you would like to enquire about school experience with us or in one of our partnership schools, please feel free to contact Tammy Cresswell.

To find out more about Teach@Weydon, do have a look at our video and web page and follow us on Twitter.


Get a taste of school life with Get Into Teaching’s School Experience Programme: getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/school-experience