A profession to be proud of: What it's like to be a secondary school teacher
There is no such thing as a 'typical' day at work for secondary school English teacher Ben Brennan.
"No day is ever the same and no class is ever the same. Sometimes I've taught the same book and I'm convinced I'm going to have it memorised by the end of term but there is something new every time and that's a real buzz," he tells Weekend.
Ben started his teaching career at The Hart School in Rugeley in 2003 and is now head of sixth form and an assistant principal.
Many teachers might have always known they were meant to be in a classroom but Ben says his interest was first sparked when he heard friends talking about their plans to enter the profession while at university.
"At the time I was doing an English degree but I hadn't decided what I was going to do with it. Friends of mine were going into teaching and they seemed to have everything figured out and were really relaxed about it. I hadn't thought about teaching but it seemed like a good fit for me and I decided to give it a go," he explains.
After graduating university, Ben embarked on a one-year post-graduate course in education at Keele University where he learned how to teach his favourite subject.
As part of his teacher training, he completed two work placements including a longer stint at The Hart School, which led to him being offered a full-time position.
"The placement was a real eye-opener for me. I really liked the school and I was thrown in the deep end from the very beginning. I was given a low-ability Year 11 group approaching their GCSEs. I learned so much in those couple of months with them. It was an interesting, challenging and rewarding experience," says the 40-year-old.
Since then Ben has risen through the ranks and was appointed head of the sixth form four years ago.
"One of the things I really enjoy is the variety of the day to day and it's incredible knowing that at the end of the day, regardless of how challenging it is, you've given something back of yourself. It's a satisfying feeling, even when you're feeling stressed, you know you are supporting the wellbeing and future prospects of the young people you are teaching," he explains.
His favourite time in the school year is the run up to Christmas when everyone has settled into their new routines and is looking forward to the festive season.
"I love Christmas and it's really nice to be around groups of young people who seem to enjoy it as much as I do. By this time we haven't got the new year nerves and the exams still seem a bit in the distance. It's a nice time to be doing what you do, the pressure hasn't kicked in yet and everything is bubbling along nicely," explains Ben.
As head of sixth form, an important part of his job is ensuring all teenagers have the information they need to plan the next chapter of their lives.
"When I first started it was very much a case of you either got a job or you went to university at the end of A-levels. Now there is a wide range of pathways out there that young people have access to and we have to stay on top of that and give them guidance," says Ben.
He has also shared his own experiences of his time at university to help inspire school leavers who may not have considered it as an option for them.
"Thinking about my own experience at university, if I could revisit any period of my life it would be that. I had one student who went to university say to me "I was so pleased you talked me into it, I've enjoyed every minute". It's very rewarding to know you have played a part in that step of their life," Ben tells Weekend.
Lockdown brought many challenges for schools and teachers up and down the country with thousands of pupils taking part in remote learning from home.
But Ben says the whole teaching community pulled together to ensure the wellbeing of the students was the priority during a tough period and he's now keeping his "fingers crossed" about what the coming months will bring.
"I've never known anything like this, it's been extraordinary. Teachers are an adaptable species. We're a community. I've been in touch with people I trained with and previously worked with and we've shared ideas because we all want the best outcome for each kid.
"I'm obviously nervous about how things are going to be because we don't know what's around the corner. We've got the kids' best interests at heart and we will do what it takes to make sure they aren't disadvantaged," he explains.
Ben says he would definitely recommend teaching as a career choice especially to people in other professions who can bring their experience into the classroom.
"A lot of people go into teaching who never considered it when they were younger and that's good because they don't have any preconceived expectations of what the job has to live up to. I think if you've got a passion and you can share it, that's a real skill," he adds.
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