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Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 12:04 PM

Tue Jun 07, 2011
With more students interested in foreign languages,
demand for teachers is high – and generous financial incentives are

Evening Standard

Confidence and proficiency in a modern foreign language such as French, German or Spanish can be useful in many careers. But those who turn their linguistic talents to teaching might find that their skills can also lead to a successful, rewarding career.

There’s currently an increased demand for modern foreign language teachers, with the latest figures showing that the number of children choosing the modern foreign language (MFL) route at GCSE will be a third higher next year than it was in 2011, with further rises predicted.

Other changes are adding to the demand, says Lin Hinnigan, chief executive at the Teaching Agency. “The new English Baccalaureate has meant a renewed focus on engaging young people in languages and has created extra teaching needs.”

“It’s crucial that we ensure schools have enough good language teachers to give pupils the best opportunity to succeed in the future,” adds Hinnigan. “Our aim is to attract more top graduates into the profession.”

Those graduates might be fresh out of university but there’s no reason why those already in employment can’t change track too, says Adeline Fancy, MFL teacher at Forest Gate Community School. She completed her PGCE last year after switching careers and is pleased to have had experience of working in business first, but knew it was time for a change. “My previous job lacked fun and was getting a bit monotonous, I needed more of a challenge.”

Teaching certainly provided that challenge. “It’s always different, whether you’re planning lessons or walking into a classroom with 30 people who all have their own point of view; that’s what makes it interesting.”

Anyone wanting to follow her lead into teaching will be well supported. Tax-free bursaries of up to £20,000 are currently available for top candidates. Teacher training places are filling up fast, so the Teaching Agency is encouraging prospective teachers to apply soon.

Other services are also available for those interested in becoming a teacher. The Teaching Agency’s Premier Plus programme provides access to one-to-one advice from an adviser who can help with the application process and Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses to brush up on any language skills that need developing.

The chance to develop as well as reap some financial rewards continues into employment with average starting salaries around £23,010. Teachers can also expect to develop abilities in many other areas, suggests Fancy. “The classroom experience really makes you reflect on how you explain things to someone, especially languages. It’s a skill you’ll keep developing throughout your career.”

Outside of the classroom there’s also plenty to challenge teachers, not least of which is the opportunity to travel – Fancy is currently in Paris supervising a school trip, for example. “But it’s not only looking after students,” says Fancy, “you’re also learning to work as a team.

You belong to the department and you belong to the whole school; there’s more to the job than teaching.” This means being a leader, having strong organisational skills and being a good communicator, she adds. “The skills you develop are ones that I doubt you’d get anywhere else.”

Just 21 per cent of teachers are switching careers in their first three-and-ahalf years compared to 44 per cent of those in a range of other graduate professions – it’s clear that turning language skills into teaching can be a rewarding option.

That’s certainly the case for Fancy. “It’s very satisfying having students say hello in French or Spanish when you pass them,” she says. “Knowing that you’re transmitting that diversity of language and culture, and that it’s working, is fantastic.”

Case study: Helen Gerrard

Helen teaches Modern Foreign Languages at Chestnut Grove School in south-west London. She studied French and English at the University of Kent (with a year abroad at the university of Nice), graduating in 2006, and qualified as a teacher in 2009 after spending a few years working in France, Italy and Switzerland.

Confidence and proficiency in a modern foreign language such as French, German or Spanish can be useful in many careers. But those who turn their linguistic talents to teaching might find that their skills can also lead to a successful, rewarding career.

“I haven’t always had a talent for languages, but I always enjoyed them. After my first year at university I worked in a bar in France for three months and came back pretty fluent. After that I found the course quite easy.

A lot of young people find languages challenging or they don’t see the point. So the job isn’t just about teaching the student the language – it’s also my job to give them an insight into another culture and allow them to pull out the differences and similarities.

I get to travel a fair bit with the job for school trips to Barcelona, Paris and then last year to Mumbai. I’m off to Paris again next week with forty 11 and 12 year olds, and then to Italy in September.

When you’re teaching you learn a lot about how to deal with different personalities and how to multi-task a hundred different things at once. Good organisation is essential! At the school where I work there is a lot of opportunity for progression – young teachers are given quite a lot of responsibility early on.

The best thing about my job is the satisfaction of knowing you have taught someone something and when they show you they ‘get it’. I was marking a set of essays by my year 10 group, and many of them had written two or three pages of decent French by heart. I was pretty pleased with myself knowing I had taught them how to do all of that.”

My first day

Beth Irving is a teacher at Comberton Village School

“The nerves were horrendous just before my first lesson! You have to take a leap of faith to a certain extent. Everyone in the department was incredibly supportive though, and I knew where to go and what to say if I needed back up. Knowing that made things a lot easier at the beginning.

I think it’s important to quickly establish firm boundaries with a class. But don’t lose your personality – part of what students will warm to is you as a person.”

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