School experience is a vital part of the application process, even though it is no longer a requirement from the DfE (Department for Education). It gives you a chance to see what is currently going on in schools, and will help you make the decision as to whether teaching is really a career you want to pursue (as well as giving you something to talk about in your Personal Statement and at interview).
The first school I visited was an OFSTED rated Outstanding Academy. I arrived at the school early, and after asking a lovely member of staff for help made my way to reception to get signed in. I wasn’t the only attendant at the experience day, in the end there were five of us. We were welcomed to the day by the deputy headteacher and given an overview of the School Direct Programme that the school ran. We also had to do the highly embarrassing ‘Introduce Yourself’ go around the table.
Then we were collected by members of our respective departments and whisked away to various areas of the school. I was given my timetable and shown to my first lesson. Year 11 Chemistry. I took my seat at the back of the classroom and observed the most engaging lesson on Condensation Polymerisation I had ever witnessed which ended in the students mixing borax with PVA glue and food colouring to make their own slime. The students were engaged and curious, eager to understand how the process worked. Whilst they played with slime I spoke to the class teacher, who was upfront about why he loved the profession and working at the school, but also about some of the drawbacks of the profession, and some of the issues facing teachers at the moment.
I observed four more lessons across the day, covering all of KS2 and KS3. I also spent lunchtime in the staff room and spoke to the other members of the department whose lessons I hadn’t observed, all of who were friendly and welcoming and willing to share their experiences of training and their time as a Qualified Teacher.
Some teachers were encouraging of my interacting with the students and would introduce me at the start of the lesson and explain what they wanted me to do to help, others were more comfortable with me just observing from the back of the room. Both approaches were fine by me and allowed me to take notes.
I made notes about everything, from the way the teachers welcomed the students into their room, to the behaviour management system and it’s implementation. I made notes about things I think could be improved upon and things I think went well.
It was an eye opening and enlightening day which had confirmed to me that I wanted to be a teacher, but I wanted to know if that was just because the school I had visited was known to be a good school in the area and the children were all well behaved and welcoming.
So my second experience day was at a less highly rated school, with a reputation as an improving setting. I arrived early, and after signing into reception I was asked to wait in the lobby. I was waiting for well over half an hour with several calls over the tannoy system before someone came to escort me to the science department.
I was deposited in the staffroom and looked after by one of the Technician’s, a lovely woman who makes a good cup of tea. Once the Head of Department showed up I got my timetable and was escorted to my first lesson. Once again I was at the back of the classroom, this time for every lesson, making my notes.
The two schools I visited were part of the same MAT and used the same behaviour policy for their students. This was interesting to observe as the second school I visited had much more low level disruption than the first, but the behaviour policy seemed to manage it effectively when used consistently.
The experience at the second school was certainly different than the first, with the staff also talking more openly about the issues at the school and the challenges they faced on a daily basis, and in a less abstract way than those of the first school. However, I was more sure than ever that teaching was the career I wanted.