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Thrills, chills and spills: The things that frighten trainee teachers

By | Blog, Hints & Tips

We know that training to teach can be a little scary.

At Ark Teacher Training, we understand that there are lots of little things that worry our trainees about entering the classroom. That’s why our team of experienced tutors, coaches and subject specialists work with our trainee teachers, supporting them every step of the way in their new career.

We asked some of our tutors to tell us what frightens new teachers the most, to share their own unnerving experiences and to give us some tricks to make sure you can be a treat in the classroom. 

 Blood-curdling behaviour issues!


Ryan: We often hear from new teacher trainees that they are afraid of how they’re going to manage the behaviour of children in the classroom.

Claire: It’s not that you’re afraid of the behaviour itself – what most new teachers are actually afraid of is what will happen if you try to exercise your authority in the classroom and the kids don’t listen to you. So the fear is that you’re going to be bad at classroom management.

Jo: This is the most overrated fear about becoming a teacher, because it really is possible to learn how to manage a classroom – the techniques are there and they are learnable. At Ark Teacher Training, we do sessions where we show the trainees a teacher who has “it” – that supposedly indefinable quality that commands students’ attention and makes them behave. But then we break down every aspect of “it,” step by step for our trainees: the tone of your voice, your language, even where you stand in the room.

Ryan: It’s definitely overrated as a fear because the kids want to do the right thing.  If you’ve got high expectations of how your class should behave, they will rise to the challenge. If you don’t have high expectations, then you won’t succeed and that’s true for both behaviour as well as for academic achievement.

 Petrifying parents!


Claire: When I first became a teacher, the thing that scared me the most were those moments when you had difficult interactions with parents. Most of the parents are amazing, but you do sometimes have pushy parents. You have to learn to manage their expectations.

Naomi: You just have to be pleasant and try your best to be helpful.

Jo: The best thing you can say to a parent is to tell them something great about their kids. It’s usually true.

 Loathsome lesson observations!


Ryan: You often hear from trainees that lesson observations make them nervous. They’re worried that their lesson isn’t going to go as planned and that the observer is judging them negatively for their every move.

Naomi: If you’re the type of person who plans your lessons really carefully – so that nothing can go wrong – then it always does seem to go wrong when you’re being observed!

Jo: I used to have a lucky dress, that I would wear when I knew I was going to be observed. It made me feel better.

Naomi: What we say to the trainees is that lesson observations aren’t meant to be intimidating. They’re part of your professional development. It’s a way to help you develop your skills and we’re here, doing these observations to support you, not to criticise you. And we also say that these observations happen pretty often, so you might as well get used to them!

 Creepy class trips!


Claire: Class trips are actually pretty frightening. You are always worried about losing a child, especially when you have to travel on the Underground. (I haven’t lost one yet!)

Naomi: The dinosaur trail in the Natural History Museum is really exciting, but some of the smaller children actually get quite upset when they get to the T-Rex exhibit. That’s scary for them!

Claire: You feel much more like a parent than a teacher when you’re on a school trip. You feel very responsible and you know that everyone is watching your students and how they behave. But sometimes people come up to you and tell you how lovely the children are behaving and that always makes you feel very proud!

Jo: The best way to conquer your worries about a school trip, as a teacher, is to be really organised and to practice. We do trip rehearsals all the time. School trips can be scary, but practising helps make it all go smoothly.

 Questions of doom!


Ryan: One of the things that can be nerve-wracking is the fear you sometimes feel, being in the year group that is learning about sex education. It’s not the topic – the curriculum is really clear – you’re scared of the questions that the children might ask.

Jo: It’s a lot of responsibility and children can ask very challenging and frank questions – you don’t want to say the wrong thing.

Claire: I had to do sex education when I was pregnant that led to some interesting questions…! If you have any doubts, the way around them is to run those sessions along with someone who has more experience. Among other things, you learn that you can’t answer every question and that there are certain phrases you can learn and rehearse, that will help you if you have to deflect a question.

Ryan: Like “Maybe you want to ask your mum and dad about that…”

Jo: “That would be a personal issue.”

Claire: I like to say “that’s a good question but we’re not focusing on that today. Today we’re focusing on….” Another thing you can do is get the children to write out their questions on paper and then you can sort through them and pick only the appropriate ones.

 The ultimate terror!


Claire: Overall, learning to become a teacher isn’t really scary. You learn techniques for everything that might come up.

Naomi: The only thing where I have no strategy for dealing with it at all is when children are sick on the bus on a school trip. Thankfully it doesn’t happen that often!

Jo: People training to teach are doing so because they really want to make a difference. I think the thing that they’re really scared of is somehow letting the children down. They want so much to do a good job, and we’re here to train them to make sure they can do it.

Faced your fears and ready to train to teach with Ark Teacher Training? Applications for September 2019 open now

“Becoming a teacher has changed my life”

By | Our Trainees

“I can honestly say that teaching has changed my life.”

Georgie, an English teacher at Ark Elvin Academy, has recently graduated from Ark Teacher Training and is now in her NQT year at her school in Wembley. “I came into teaching from a career where I really wasn’t happy. The transformation to now has been incredible. I can’t imagine not being a teacher anymore.”

Georgie is one of the Ark Teacher Training alumni to take part in our brand new video which showcases our two-year School Direct teacher training programme.

Hear more from our trainees, past and present, in our new video. WATCH NOW.

Georgie’s fellow teacher and Ark Teacher Training graduate, Chloe, joined the programme straight after graduating from university. “I wanted to go into teaching after graduating so I could start making a difference straight away. Doing Ark Teacher Training meant I’d be with the students from day one, getting those experiences and progressing from the beginning.”

Chloe, like many new teachers, was worried about managing a class of 30 students, but Ark Teacher Training was there to support her every step of the way: “Ark Teacher Training is such a supportive programme. The number of people who are there to guide you and the amount of training you get helps you become a great teacher. It’s put me in the best possible place I can be to start my career in teaching.”

This time last year, Georgie and Chloe were in the same position as Conrad, a current trainee on the Ark Teacher Training programme, just beginning his career as a primary teacher at Ark King Solomon Academy. “I want to be a teacher so I can have an impact on the lives of children from deprived areas. Being one of the first people in my family to go to university has inspired me a lot. The children I’m working with need role models from their communities to help push them to succeed.”

Conrad, along with the rest of the 2018/19 cohort, spent two weeks at the Ark Teacher Training Summer School in August, preparing to be in the classroom. Trainee maths teacher Charlotte says, “The training so far has given us tips and tricks to help us create a positive learning environment and deliver effective lessons, especially in the first few weeks. It’s given me a great foundation to build on and I feel a lot more confident going into the classroom.”

Inspired by our trainees? Apply now


Six weeks in to teaching…not only am I surviving, I’m loving it!

By | Our Trainees

Robert is about to finish his first half term of teaching, having swapped his career in the City to teach maths to secondary students. How has it gone? Is he enjoying it? And most importantly, did he make the right decision? 

So, how have the first six of weeks of school gone? Not only have I survived, but I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s early days of course, but on top of leaving each day feeling as if I’ve made a difference, so much of what I’ve enjoyed has been rather unexpected.

If I were to pick three things that have stood out, the first would be that working with children is genuinely inspiring and fun. Their curiosity and willingness to learn (not just about maths, but about life) is refreshing. I was surprised at how seriously they take their teachers’ feedback. For example, one of the things I do with my form is to read through the book logs they have to write. When correcting spelling or grammar, I thought they would be annoyed by my pickiness, but they love getting this feedback, and are super keen for me to read what they’ve written. They are also (often unintentionally) funny. My favourite moment so far is when talking about Drama Club, I stopped after reading the phrase “budding thespians” off the slide to ask the class if anyone knew what a thespian was. One student raised his hand and said, “is it when two women marry each other?” Cue stifled giggles from children and staff members alike.

Secondly, I am loving the intellectual challenge of learning a completely different skill. You realise pretty early on that teaching is not as easy as you think it is when observing a skilled teacher’s lessons. There are a million and one things you have to be simultaneously aware of, control, and plan for. As a new trainee, you are assigned both a mentor (who observes you teach and gives you weekly “action steps” to work on) and a co-planner (who helps you plan lessons). I also have the opportunity at school to observe different teachers in my free periods.  This is incredibly useful and I find myself thinking, “oh, that’s how they explained that”, or “that’s a nice way of dealing with that issue; I can use that in my lesson”.

Finally, I am enjoying the thrill of being “on stage”. As a teacher, you are constantly performing, with 30 expectant pairs of eyes on you, relying on you to learn something new. I’m certainly still in the phase of having butterflies before each class (will this ever go, I wonder?), but as you settle into the lesson and find your groove, with the class being productive – it’s just, well, cool. The high after finishing something successfully is one I got occasionally in my previous job, maybe only once every couple of months. But now it happens every day. And yes, sometimes a lesson doesn’t go so well – but the next lesson is always a clean slate where you can improve on last time.

Of course, it’s not amazing all of the time. There are frustrations or difficulties; dealing with challenging behaviour is one aspect where I have a lot to learn. And it’s tiring. Standing on your feet the whole day is a lot more draining than sitting in meetings or in front of a computer screen.

In my old job, I was always thinking about work outside of the office; but this feeling was usually one of dread – often worrying about a mistake in Excel formula. Now, even though I still think about work all the time, it is completely different – in a positive way. I’m thinking about how to teach a certain topic or how to engage a particular student.

One of the many benefits of Ark Teacher Training is the weekly Thursday afternoon training sessions with the other trainees. It’s fantastic to have a peer group where we can share good practice and support each other. There have been some great highlights from my fellow trainees, from first successful science practicals to productive restorative conversations with students. It’s great being able to work alongside the trainees from Now Teach. The diverse experiences in our cohort, from new twenty-one-year-old graduates to fifty-something former corporate high-fliers, means that we can all learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

In the run-up to half term, I can confirm that I’ve definitely made the right career decision.

Inspired by Robert and want to train to teach? Apply now

From the City boardroom to the inner-city classroom

By | Our Trainees
Robert is currently training to teach maths with Ark Teacher Training. Prior to joining the programme he spent five years working in the City, including 18 months in New York. Over the next 12 months Robert will be documenting his journey from the boardroom to the classroom.

Going back to work after the summer was a little different this year; instead of trying to turn around a failing retailer or distributor, I am in front of 30 expectant 12-year olds attempting to teach them something about algebra and statistics.
Having broken the news of my new career to various friends over the past few months, the reaction of most has been to look at me open-mouthed with incredulity. After four and a half years climbing the corporate ladder in the illustrious world of strategy consulting, why have I decided to take a pay cut and risk embarrassing myself in front of a group of unforgiving teenagers?
There were various push and pull factors. On the push side, the transitory nature of the consulting world had begun to wear me down. You go from one intense project to the next; six weeks working for a cardboard box manufacturer, eight weeks for an outsourced catering provider, four weeks on a private equity transaction in the legal software world. For the first couple of years I learned a lot about different industries as well as the business world more generally – and working with smart and dedicated colleagues to solve difficult problems was stimulating.
But at some point, the repetitive process of handing over a 400 slide PowerPoint deck at the end of the project and moving straight on to the next one was unfulfilling. I never received any feedback from the clients on whether my recommendations had made a difference. The lack of much autonomy and the repeated crashing of a massive Excel file at 11pm at night also contributed to me losing my sense of humour too many times. Ultimately, when I was leaving the office feeling like I hadn’t ‘made a difference’ and waking up not wanting to go in, it was clearly time to move on. Life is too short – I had seen too many unhappy people in their forties and fifties stuck in a job they hated.
So why teaching? I did some volunteering while at LSE at an inner-city school through a programme called Widening Participation. I was stunned by the lack of basic maths skills of some of the 16-year olds. It was a stark contrast to my own school experience. At the time I naively thought that this must be a one-off (sadly it’s not, and I will write about educational inequality another time). But at the same time, I left the school feeling exhilarated about the possibility that I could make a real difference. And it is this feeling – passing on the knowledge that I had access to, to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, can reach their full potential – that is my principal reason for wanting to go into teaching.
Having initially been drawn in by the allure of City life, this desire to get into teaching returned when I had started to get disillusioned with consulting. However, I had multiple concerns – about the pay drop, whether I would be able to handle the kids, whether I would actually be any good; but if I’m honest, a big barrier was fearing what my friends and family would think about my move.
After a lot of soul-searching, aided by inspiration from others who had taken a similar path, such as Lucy Kellaway and the Now Teach programme, and most importantly the realisation that I had to do what made me happy, not what I thought others would approve of (and actually, everyone has been remarkably supportive), I decided to take the plunge. I took a week off work to observe lessons in schools. I knew it was the right thing for me to be doing. Within a month I had applied, received an offer and handed my notice in. I spent the summer term in the school I’m going to be teaching at as a Teaching Assistant, so I have some idea what I’m about to get myself into.
I am joining a school in central London. Although it is located in a deprived area, it achieves extraordinary results thanks to its uncompromising focus on aspiration and dedicated staff. I’ll be teaching kids aged 11-18, initially in maths but hoping to broaden to economics as well once I have completed my first year. I’ll be sure to document my journey into teaching, whether I fall flat on my face or actually manage to teach them something…

How trainee teachers can learn from David Beckham

By | Blog, Hints & Tips

 Claire Smith is Design Manager for the Primary Curriculum at Ark Teacher Training.  Prior to this role she worked at Ark as a Training Lead, supporting trainee teachers in both primary and secondary schools and facilitating weekly training sessions. Claire began her teaching journey in 2010 as an English subject specialist in a secondary school in Brixton where she taught for three years before transferring to the primary sector where she was Head of Performing Arts in and teacher of Year 6 in Hackney. 

There are some things you learn very quickly as a teacher. One of them is that trying to get a class of excitable year 9 students to enter your classroom quietly is not simple. Many years ago, during my first few weeks of teaching, I thought about it each night as I went to sleep and every morning as I scuttled back to my classroom. I tried numerous strategies: I projected interactive ‘Do Now’ activities on my whiteboard to try to entice them to their desks, I threatened detentions before they had even sat down, I tried remaining silent and communicating using only non-verbals. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until the end of my first month that I was encouraged by a colleague to go and spend some of my non-teaching time in my Head of Department’s class, watching the way he welcomed and settled his students. The next few days were enlightening. I jotted down exactly what I saw at the beginning of his lessons: how was he standing, where was he looking, what was he saying, how he was saying it. Back in my classroom, I imitated him as precisely as I could. And it worked! Not overnight, but slowly it started working. I continued to observe and precisely replicate what my mentor had been doing and a few months later my pupils were entering my classroom quietly and ready to learn.

This premise of imitation lies at the heart of Ark Teacher Training. We believe that all trainee teachers should begin their teaching journey by watching experts in their field. After all, teaching is a performance profession; you are constantly live in front of pupils and need to think on the spot. Trainee surgeons practise sutures on oranges hundreds of times so they don’t make a mistake on a live person. They spend hundreds of hours in theatres watching their mentor, then, through imitation and practice, they are able to refine their skills, turning them into muscle memory, ensuring they make no mistakes when working with a patient.

Unfortunately, such opportunities for trainee teachers to watch and imitate excellence is not something commonly found in their timetable. As Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, author of Leverage Leadership says, “We would never entrust our loved ones to an inexperienced surgical resident. We expect the head surgeon to coach and intervene when necessary. Why shouldn’t parents expect the same from us when it comes to the education of their children?”

Trainee teachers aren’t given the time to observe experienced teachers and expert teachers are not given enough opportunities to share their expertise with those new to their field. Teaching is still a “closed-door profession” says Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol. It is still a common misconception that teaching is an innate skill that comes naturally to new teachers.

Anders Ericsson carried out extensive research on what it takes to become an expert. Ericsson (1993) says that it takes 10,000 hours (20 hours for 50 weeks a year for ten years = 10,000) of deliberate practice to become an expert in almost anything.  The key here is “deliberate”. David Beckham, for example, did not stumble upon the fact that his free-kicks were generally well above the standard of most other players of his era. These skills were the result of many years of precise and deliberate practice. Beckham himself said: “I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands [of free kicks]. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut. When my dad got home from work, he would give me feedback and I would adapt my kick: the position of my toes, the pace of the ball, the direction of my shoulders. I kept going until the sun had gone down and my kick was perfect.”

It seems fair to say that “practice makes perfect” applied to one of England’s most successful footballers, so why shouldn’t it apply to the most successful teachers? At Ark Teacher Training, we provide trainees with opportunities to do just this. Every week trainees watch and analyse videos or live models of exemplary teaching from our colleagues across the Ark network. They hone in on a different set of skills and together they codify what made the examples so successful. They then have the opportunity to give it a go themselves, by unpicking the successes, practising and receiving feedback on these skills, and repeating the practise until the skills are embedded.

Of course we aren’t just encouraging teachers to copy others. We don’t want a workforce of identical teachers. Instead, we believe that, if a teacher is going to develop their own style and persona as a teacher, first they have to learn and master the basics by practising and refining them. Only once they reach this stage will teachers be in a position to find their own style and persona, which we call the innovation stage. This is the stage when our teachers will become the David Beckhams of teaching- who can encourage a new generation of teachers to become great, inspiring teachers and future leaders of our schools.

An arresting new career: from police officer to teacher

By | Our Trainees

Andrew Welch is a trainee geography teacher at Ark Globe Academy in south London. Andrew is part of the first Now Teach cohort. In association with Ark Teacher Training, Now Teach is designed for experienced career changers looking to reapply their skills to the classroom.

Andrew talks about his decision to go in to teaching as a second career and the challenges and highlights of the year so far.  

This time last year I was six months into retirement and had just undertaken a week’s observation at a secondary school in Edgware. I’d made the decision to join Now Teach earlier in the year and was spending some time in a school to make sure I had a better understanding of what life was like in a modern classroom.

From then until now, I can’t quite believe I’m already in the summer term, about to finish my first year of teaching. It’s gone incredibly quickly but I still feel I have a long way to go!

Andrew as a police officer


Prior to embarking on my new career, I was a police officer for almost 32 years. I spent 27 years in Specialist Operations at New Scotland Yard, with six years stationed overseas in France, Belgium and north Africa in a liaison role. Having been in the Metropolitan Police for so long, it’s been challenging to go back to being at the bottom of the rung, not knowing how to do anything. It’s been a humbling experience and certainly knocked my confidence.



My decision to train to teach didn’t come completely out of the blue. In the mid-eighties, just after I’d completed my geography degree at Keble College, Oxford, I was at a loose end before joining the police force. My former geography teacher knew that I had just got my degree and asked if I wanted to go back to cover a term’s teaching at my old school. It was really tough – I was literally given some text books and told to get on with it! I’d always thought that one day I should learn to do it properly, so 34 years later, here I am! My daughter did teacher training straight out of university, so she was another inspiration that encouraged me to finally have a go at it.

Now Teach seemed like a great option for me. Having retired from a high-pressure job, the idea of being able to do a 4-day week appealed to me; it would allow me to redress the work-life balance that had become skewed over the years whilst also tackling a new career. I’d seen Lucy Kellaway talk about the launch of the programme and she was very persuasive and, of course, inspiring. Now Teach seemed like a good route for me to take to join like-minded individuals as we all embark on a brand new career together. It’s been a pleasure to be part of the first cohort of Now Teach – it’s a fantastic group of people and it’s been great to meet everyone.

I’ve received a tremendous amount of support from the Now Teach team and Ark Teacher Training. It has definitely been tough and I’ve had good and bad days. There has been a lot to take in over the past nine months. From the weekly training sessions, to my classroom practice, to the one-to-one planning with my tutor, it’s a lot to think about and there a very few quick wins or easy fixes, but the support available has been great and helped me get through the year.

There are certainly transferable skills I’ve been able to take from my career in the police into my new role in the classroom. Resilience is the obvious one, but I’ve also used my communication skills, negotiation tactics and the power of persuasion. My ability to remain calm under pressure has also been very beneficial. One thing I underestimated was how organised you have to be as a teacher. I haven’t quite mastered that yet, and it’s something I’m looking forward to working on next year!

A stand-out highlight was when one of my 11 year old students came up to me to tell me that he liked geography and in his spare time he was reading a book about global issues, which is what we were studying in class at the time, written by award-winning journalist John Pilger. It was great to see the impact I could have on a young person’s life.

Unquestionably, the best thing about becoming a teacher is the students. All the interactions you have both in the classroom and around the school, developing the relationships with them and getting to know them better, it’s been fantastic.

If you’re in a similar position to me and considering a career in teaching, I’d say go for it. It’ll be tough, but it’s all worthwhile for those moments.

Inspired by Andrew’s journey? Find out more about how you can retrain as a teacher with Now Teach and Ark Teacher Training


“Ark Teacher Training is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done.”

By | Our Trainees

The impact teachers have on children is enormous. After all, the job of a teacher is to educate, inspire and cultivate the next generation. The right teacher can transform students into leaders and thinkers that will have a positive impact on the world. Beth, our current Campus Ambassador at the University of Oxford, sat down with Harvey Aspeling-Jones, an Oxford graduate and trainee science teacher currently in his first year with Ark Teacher Training. They discussed some of the myths around a career in teaching, and why he choose to train with Ark.

Beth: How did you get into teaching?

Harvey: I studied Biochemistry at Oxford, and graduated in 2009. After I left, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so went into random jobs. I worked for two years as a project manager but after a while I decided I wanted to use my degree to do something worthwhile rather than just working for money. Originally, I went down the research route and studied a masters and PhD at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I realised that I enjoyed the teaching aspect of academia more than anything else so thought teaching was a sensible route. I researched School Direct teacher training programmes and came across Ark Teacher Training. Now I am training to be a science teacher at Ark Globe Academy in Elephant and Castle, south London.

What is the biggest myth people have about teaching which you want to challenge?

People don’t realise the amount of skill that goes into teaching, and how much a teacher is doing. What you see when you step behind the curtain is just how much work the teacher is doing to make sure that all the students are engaged, they all understand what is being taught and that they’re really starting to develop a deeper understanding. There is a lot of manipulation going on that you don’t realise until you’re doing it. When the teacher is stood in front of the class, the student assumes he is just talking but it is a much more interactive process. If it was easy, why bother with teacher training?

Do you find living in London on a ‘teacher’s salary’ sufficient?

I didn’t go into teaching for money – I don’t think anyone does – but I’m not struggling. I feel like I am getting a good deal given the amount of teaching I do and the amount of training I get and the fact that my school are paying for my training. I never feel like I’m not getting paid enough.

Harvey helping one his year 9 students

What attracted you to Ark Teacher Training?

Ark offered more than any other training programmes that I looked at. It was clear that Ark had an established programme with a clear structure of what your training year would look like.

But it was more than just the stats on the amount of training I was going to get, (which are great by the way!), it was also the ethos behind Ark. I was attracted to Ark’s sense of purpose around tackling education inequality by providing a high quality of education to young people who were previously missing out on that, and giving them the opportunities they wouldn’t normally have. It’s nice that at my school there is a real sense of everyone being there for the same reason.

I also like that there is a positive openness in the staff room and a good level of understanding about the strains of teaching in these conditions. Our senior leaders do a great job of recognising both the emotional and time demands on teaching in this context. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to lie or cover up how I’m feeling, if I’m struggling or need extra support.

What was the biggest shock when you started teaching? Was it more challenging than you realised?

I knew it was going to be hard – everyone told me it was going to be hard – but teaching anywhere is a tough job. I did find dealing with challenging behaviour trickier than I thought I would though. Every class will start testing the boundaries after a while and it can be quite difficult and demoralising at times, but the support from my school and Ark Teacher Training means that at no point have I felt like people have been criticising me for the behaviour that happens in my classroom. Expectations are set at the right level for the trainees – you’re never made to feel like you’re failing if behaviour disrupts your lesson.

What would you say to people who are thinking about a career in teaching but aren’t sure?

I have done a number of things, but this has been by far the most rewarding. Even if I have a day of classes which feel to me like a complete disaster, when I get it right and you can see that kids are grasping something important – it’s a great feeling and I don’t know where else you would get that. To anyone thinking about it as a career, get yourself into a school, talk to teachers, observe what they’re doing, see it from the other side of the curtain, it’s very different than it is sometimes portrayed.

Inspired by Harvey’s story? Train to teach with Ark Teacher Training and you too can make a real difference where it matters most. 

“A child’s insight into the world and the wisdom they have surprises me everyday.”

By | Our Trainees

Current Ark Teacher Training trainee Rachael traded in her freelance career to retrain as a primary teacher in West London. Here she talks about her decision to teach, the highs, the lows and how ultimately it’s all worth while. 

This time last year I was working from my family home in north-west England, illustrating e-learning courses for a local NHS training project and volunteering in my local community. It was also around this time that I started filling out my application for Ark Teacher Training. Now, I’ve moved to London and am teaching year one at Ark Byron Primary Academy.

I studied Theology at the University of Exeter and become a freelance illustrator after I graduated. I’ve grown up volunteering in a variety of organisations, predominantly focused on improving the lives of young people, so a transition into teaching made sense to me.

Teaching is such a privilege; you are a key influence in the lives of children. I was fortunate enough to have an upbringing which gave me the foundation of ambition, self-confidence and curiosity. I wanted to be able to give that to others and teaching felt like the perfect way to do that.

The School Direct route suited me; not only did it bring the financial benefits of providing me with a salary, but I also like the routine of working full-time.  It also makes me a better teacher – I’m able to put theory into practice every day. I can immediately try out everything I’ve been taught in a classroom setting.

I’m lucky, there’s so much I’ve been able to bring into the classroom from my previous roles. As well as experience volunteering with young people, my time-management and creative skills have been particularly beneficial. I felt better equipped to balance the broad range of demands placed upon me from both training and teaching. I’ve also been able to use my creativity to plan exciting lessons, create interesting displays and come up with different ways to engage the children in learning.

Balancing my time between training, planning and teaching can feel a little overwhelming. The course is rigorous, but putting the work in is worth the outcome. There is nothing more satisfying than successfully teaching a lesson you’ve planned using all the skills and techniques you have been practising and preparing for.

My advice to anyone considering a career in teaching? It can seem a little scary, especially when people are always telling you what a tough job it is, but it is thoroughly worth it. I’ve been incredibly supported throughout the process and everyone at Ark Teacher Training and in my school has helped me to manage a work-life balance.

Children are great – don’t ever lose sight of why you want to teach. I had a particularly challenging student in my Phonics class last term. I spent a lot of time and energy getting to know this child, putting behaviour management techniques in place, trying to minimise disruption, but it was tough. On the last day of term I was leaving early for a training session, this student broke down crying. I went over to check everything was ok and they replied “‘You’ve learnt enough already Miss Gillies, I don’t want you to go!” In that moment all the hard work was worth it, especially when I discovered they had progressed three levels in their Phonics.

Seeing and working with the children every day reminds me, particularly at challenging points, why I am doing what I am doing.

Want to join Rachael in transforming lives in the classroom? Find out how you can apply to train to teach with Ark

Rachel left the army to retrain as a primary teacher – Read her journey so far

By | Our Trainees

Like many of my peers on the Ark Teacher Training programme, before starting at Ark Swift Primary Academy in September, I had no classroom experience. Prior to starting my teacher training I had been an officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps for six years. This was a job that I had loved almost every moment of, so when the time came to move on, like any good officer, I sat down to analyse the parts of the job that I wanted to take forward into my new career. Essentially it boiled down to three things; working with people every day, leadership, and a having a career with a strong sense of purpose. Clearly all three are captured within being a teacher, but it is the final point, the sense of purpose, that made Ark really stand out to me. I have no doubt, thinking about the children in our classroom, that if we do our jobs to the best of our ability then will change what the future has to offer them.

Being in the classroom from day one has meant that I have been able to develop a deep understanding of each of my pupil’s individual (and often hilarious) personalities. I have seen the amazing amount of progress that children have made throughout the term. One child, having gone from being unable to read basic three letter words, now sits firmly in the middle of her peer group. As a result her confidence in all areas of school life has visibly grown, which is heart-warming to see.

One of the best aspects of training with Ark is the relationship that you build with your classroom coach. Being with them daily means that you receive a wealth of informal coaching and feedback and get to tackle errors or misconceptions far earlier than you otherwise might. One important lesson I learnt – never ask a child to pass you what they were playing with, it might just end up being a small, green, bogey!

Rachel - primary trainee

Rachel speaking about her experience to potential trainees


There have been some challenging times over the last term. As a career changer I think the most difficult thing to come to terms with is the fact that I was used to operating in an environment where I had achieved a certain level of confidence and now find myself firmly back in the novice category. Preaching to the children about errors being a part of learning has been something that I’ve also had to take on board myself.


Despite any testing times, there has genuinely not been a moment where I have questioned my decision to transfer into teaching. This ultimately comes back to the sense of purpose that comes from working with a group of like-minded individuals who are truly invested in the outcomes of our children. When you are feeling a little tired first thing on a Monday morning and you see your pupils come racing across the playground, trying to be the first one in, raring to go, you can’t help but smile and look forward to the day ahead.

Inspired by Rachel’s story? Find out how you can join us in transforming lives through education. 

Top tips for a great teacher training application

By | Hints & Tips

We often get asked ‘what makes a great teacher training application?’ While the experience and passion will have to come from you, we’ve come up with five simple tips to make sure you can avoid the easy mistakes and submit the best application you can. 

1. Think carefully: Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers, but can also be incredibly challenging. We’re looking for people who are really sure this is what they want to do and know this is the right career for them, as well as being sure they support our mission. If you’re invited to an assessment day with us, you’ll need to be ready to talk about this clearly and passionately.

2. Get some hands-on experience: The best way to prepare for a career working with young people is to gain experience of working with young people. Whether that’s securing some experience in your local Ark school, or coaching sport to young people in your community, it’s all useful experience which will help to strengthen your application.

3. Do your homework: There are many ways to train as a teacher so we want to hear why you want to train with Ark Teacher Training in particular. As part of our recruitment process, we’re also looking for evidence that you understand Ark as an organisation and the context which we work in. We recommend taking a look through our website and watching this video to learn more about the work we do.

4. Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s: Read our eligibility criteria carefully to ensure you meet our requirements for the programme and be proactive in filling in any missing gaps, particularly if you completed your qualifications outside the UK. You’ll also need to complete a subject knowledge test if you pass our eligibility screening, so be sure to spend some time looking at the curriculum of your chosen subject.

5. Practise and perfect: Alongside the subject knowledge test, you’ll complete a situational judgement assessment, which looks at how you’d react in different school situations. There are some sample questions for this on our website, which you can use to practise. We’d also recommend practising for your interview with us, if you’re invited to an assessment day, so you can answer our questions confidently.

Followed our tips and ready to submit your application? Apply today and join us in transforming lives through education.