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I want your job...: Science teacher

Interview by Alex McRae

Shola Alabi, 37, is a science teacher at the Gateway Academy in Thurrock Essex

What's your job like from day to day?

I teach biology, chemistry and physics to Years Seven to 11. I start at 8.15am, preparing the classroom, making sure the board is clean, and so on. I'm a very organised person and I like things to be in place. After a staff meeting and registration, lessons start in the science lab, and I'll teach classes and revision groups throughout the day. I try to make the lessons relevant to everyday life - there are so many exciting ways to pass on knowledge about science. By doing an experiment on gravity, for example, children can really see science in action.

Why do you love your job?

The kids, most importantly. I'm passionate about my job and my responsibility to be a role model, and I really enjoy my relationship with them. They are the next generation, and I want them to be proud of themselves and what they've achieved. Recently, I met a child I used to teach, and who's now at university. She said: "Miss, I wish I'd listened more, because the science I'm studying now is really hard!". It gladdened my heart to see how well she was doing. I feel I'm giving something back.

What's the hardest thing about teaching?

When you're trying to get the best out of students, it can be difficult when it feels like there's a minority of kids who will not achieve, no matter what you try. That makes my heart bleed. But most kids do excel, which is so rewarding. There's a perception that teaching in a secondary school is a scary job. But children will always just be children. You, as the adult, need to have high expectations of them - and to remember what you were like at their age.

What skills do you need to be a teacher?

You have to be very organised, but flexible, so you need a clear plan for each lesson, but you also need to change things around if necessary. You've got to be good at communicating and managing your classroom - not just the children, but also your classroom resources. Finally, you have to be sensitive and keep your eyes open. If there's a problem with a child, I always check whether they're OK and, if necessary, tell them to take two minutes to calm down. Kids know when you've got their best interests at heart.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to teach?

You should have a degree in the subject you want to teach. But I would also say that before you train, it's worth going into a school to see how things are done. Get the kids to take you round, and talk to teachers. Go to careers fairs and speak to people there about the job. That's how I got into teaching - I used to work in Customs and Excise, and was representing them at a careers fair, when I happened to wander over to a teaching stall and start chatting. I went down this route because I wanted to change lives, and I still feel I made the right choice. Teaching is challenging and hard work, but it pays off.

What's the career-path and salary like?

There are different routes into teaching, but a lot of training is based in schools, which is great because it gets you into the job from the start. After qualifying, you spend a year as a newly qualified teacher, starting on at least £20,133, or £24,168 in central London. As an experienced classroom teacher, you earn £34,281 outside London and £41,004 in central London, but you can get extra allowances by taking on more responsibility, like management. Head teachers can earn more than £90,000.

In February and March the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) is running the biggest-ever free teaching-careers fairs in London, Birmingham and Manchester. To register, and for more information on teacher training, go to www.tda.gov.uk/recruit and follow the links

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