Moving between University and School Teaching

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by Dr Catherine Armstrong

Despite the roles of schoolteacher and university lecturer being very similar in some ways, few people actually make the transition between the two careers. This article will explore the possible reasons for this and suggest ways that you can make that change.


The job descriptions of a schoolteacher and a university lecturer are surprisingly similar. On a day-to-day basis you will design and deliver lessons in line with national guidelines, mark work and prepare students for nationally recognised assessments. Increasingly your job will involve a great deal of record keeping (including, most importantly, monitoring student behaviour and progress) and you may find that, as a result, the numbers of hours spent in the classroom is decreasing and your contact with the students is increasingly taken over by trainees or assistants. During term time you will work incredibly long hours, with classroom time, preparation time and admin only part of your work. In holiday times many teachers revitalise their teaching materials and are sometimes required to undergo extra training themselves.


The only real differences in the day-to-day activities of these two roles are that firstly, university lecturers teach students mostly between the ages of 18-21 (sometimes older); whilst as a secondary school teacher, your job will involve the education of students aged between 11-18. Secondly that they are strongly encouraged to maintain a research profile and produce articles and monographs to disseminate that output to their peers. Few secondary school teachers have time to contribute to the cutting edge scholarship; there are notable exceptions to this of course, such as, in my own field, David Farr's book on Henry Ireton and the English Revolution (Boydell Press, 2006). This sort of work is challenging for school teachers because their institutions often offer no support for research at this level and it has to be entirely self-driven, whereas university based staff have financial and practical support networks to help them to achieve publications in their field. Many schoolteachers write fascinating guides to teaching at secondary level and contribute research ideas to theories of pedagogy (education of children). They also often write textbooks designed for school children that are very successful because of the wealth of classroom experience that informs the book.


You would think with so few differences between the sorts of things people in these professions do that there would be a lot of exchange of personnel between the two, whereas this is not the case. Why is that? The answer lies partly in historic gender roles associated with the two jobs that no longer apply (women became school teachers, men university lecturers). But today, the qualifications required to go into each profession are very different, meaning that, essentially, a school teacher would have to start training from the beginning to become a lecturer and vice versa.

As has been explored in many articles on this website, to become a lecturer at university you require a PhD and teaching experience gained while taking that qualification. Going into school teaching is very different. Rarely do schoolteachers stay on at university themselves and do a PhD; they are more likely to do a first, undergraduate degree and then pursue a teaching qualification such as a PGCE. Increasingly teachers are acquiring masters in their field of interest in order to supplement their own knowledge and to make themselves more employable. If you wish to become a schoolteacher after going down the academic route, the state education system will not recognise your PhD as a substitute for a teacher training qualification. It may be possible to enter teaching on a Graduate Teaching Scheme or a Teach First scheme, but if you wished to stay in the profession eventually you would need to do a year's teacher training qualification from scratch. Equally school teaching qualifications and experience, while counting for something when going into academic life, will not be seen as commensurate to a PhD and expertise in the university lecture room. The private school system is slightly different, although most do now require you to have the same teacher training qualifications as state schools. You would need to contact a private school directly to see what their policy is. If moving from school teaching to lecturing, the first step is to register for a PhD programme in your chosen field. You will be able to gain teaching experience at Higher Education level while working towards this qualification.

So, the large amount of time and money needed to swap between the two careers by acquiring other qualifications is the main reason why so few people make that change. Therefore make sure you are really committed to changing your teaching role before you do so. You have to be prepared for a lot of studying and hard work before your career dreams are realised. And of course there is no guarantee of a job at the end of your training either, although it appears that in the current employment climate teachers in schools have a slightly easier time getting secure, long-term work that teachers at university level. However, moving between these two careers is not impossible and a love of teaching and learning and self-development is vital to both. It is important also to be able to show that you have an awareness of government initiatives, both to improve your teaching practice and to perform well in interviews when looking for work.

Have a look at these websites for information on that:

And while there are great differences in teaching methods and practice when teaching children or those over 18, you will still be able to emphasise the transferable nature of the skills you have acquired if looking to move into teaching a different age group. Both careers also require a large measure of enthusiasm for your subject and motivation for hard work, so moving between them perhaps does not take such a big leap after all.

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