Why you need classroom experience

Well over a year and a half ago now, when I sat down to apply for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses, I was perplexed by the necessity of prior classroom experience. Surely, I’d learn all I needed to know from training at the University of Birmingham?

Having now finished my training, I can confirm that I was completely, totally and utterly wrong. Under more normal times, prior classroom experience was absolutely essential before beginning your training (fear not for those starting in September – your training provider will understand that this wasn’t possible in 2020). Here’s why:

Confirmation bias

How do I know that this is for me?

That’s the most important question you should be asking yourself before you even think about writing a personal statement. When I looked into teaching, there were so many other career paths that I could have pursued, and I really didn’t know which would suit me best.

That all changed when I gained some classroom experience. It was as straightforward as sitting in on a few lessons in a variety of schools across a number of weeks. Doing so gave me a sense of what it felt like to see a lesson carried out from a perspective that is not a student’s. It confirmed that teaching was absolutely for me. Had I not gained this experience, I’d have approached my first placement with far more trepidation and anxiety.

Equally, it could have confirmed that, no, this career isn’t for me. If I hadn’t thought very highly of what I’d learned, I would have avoided my teacher training year entirely. Gaining classroom experience was the only way that I could know for sure that I’d be happy pursuing this profession. Teaching is unique in that it’s one of the only careers that lets you do this, with no strings attached.

Talk the talk

When writing your personal statement, you’ll need to keep it short, relevant and to the point. Rapidly indicate your interest and what encouraged you to become a teacher, and you’ll be golden.

However, it’s no good if the only relevant experience you’ve had with young people was when you mentored a pupil while undertaking A-Levels, or that you were a Prefect for a Year 8 tutor group in 2011. Those are all well-and-good, but they shouldn’t make up the meat of your application. Imagine you were a course director, reading through applications. Would you rather award a place on your competitive ITE course to someone without experience, or to someone who’s been around the block?

I know who sounds more interested. Do you?

Walk the walk

Finally, you’ll need something relevant to discuss at your interview. Trying to convince the course director that you deserve a place is nerve-wracking enough as it is, and you’ll struggle if you have very little of relevance to say. But getting experience won’t only help with filling the silence; you’ll also be better equipped with what to say.

For instance, I was asked what I would do if a student approached me and asked to confide in me a secret that I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody else. Would you agree? How could you, realistically, expect to know the answer if you’ve not been anywhere near a teacher in the past five years?

There are, of course, numerous safeguarding courses online that are easily accessible, but if you’ve never had reason to undertake one then rest assured that everything you’ll need to know will be covered in your training year. Personally, I also felt that the answer (‘No, I would tell them that I can’t promise to keep anything a secret – and here’s why…’) resonated far more with me after talking with experienced teachers than it did from my online research.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to find classroom experience in these strange times. When normality does, finally, return, however, do try and get into a school. It’ll be well worth your time.


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