What I learned from leaving teacher training – and starting again

Kim Johnson reflects on his difficult start to teacher training and Now Teach helped him overcome its challenges.

4 mins

4/30/2024 2:55:06 PM
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I started teacher training in September – and very soon was finding it a real challenge.

For a variety of reasons, my career change was not going the way I wanted.

As is often case with life, there were a number of reasons for things getting complicated – only some of them were to do with retraining. But my PGCE was one of the things I could change.

So after some honest conversations with my excellent Now Teach Programme Manager and my training mentors, I decided to pause things.

I am now back in training and I’m happy to say that things are going well.

Pause, not rewind

The decision to pause was just that – I didn’t quit my training but restarted in January, instead of waiting until the next September.

I am now back in training and I’m happy to say that things are going well. But after reflecting, there are a few things I want to pass on.

Here are my five things that I’ve learned about teacher training in England that you should know if you are planning to change career.

1. You can teach with just QTS

I want to say this very clearly: you do not need to do a PGCE! It is optional. You just need qualified teacher status (QTS).

I grew up in Zimbabwe and my mother was a teacher – so I’m not familiar with the English system. My experience was that you needed a PGCE, and that was where all my planning focused.

I must give Now Teach credit – they told me that I didn’t need to do a PGCE but it didn’t really land, and I pressed on.

So I’m saying it again: to teach in England, you only need the QTS .

For me, the PGCE was more work for not lots of gain. Other people get something out of it, but not me.

I got through my entire undergraduate degree without writing an essay.

Full disclosure: I was a chemical engineering project manager in my previous career. If you want a Gant chart to set up a chemical plant, I’m your man. But research essays? Less so.

I got through my entire degree without writing an essay, and now the PGCE is asking me to research and write long essays. It was a challenge.

2. Give yourself time to decide your training course

I started talking to Now Teach quite late in the year – in June - and I really wanted to start training as soon as possible. I didn’t want to wait another year.

But I’m telling you, start talking to Now Teach as soon as you can!

My Career Change Specialist made it happen pretty fast, so it worked really well.

But it did mean I had to make decisions quickly – like doing the PGCE. If I’d had a few more months, we’d have had time for more coaching conversations to think about what training would be a good fit.

So no blame to Now Teach – they met me where I was. But I’m telling you, start talking to them as soon as you can!

There are lots of unknown unknowns – and the Specialists are amazing in opening the lid on this unknown process.

3. Schools are great place to work

If that’s some of the more difficult stuff to do with training, I want to also hammer home that I love working in a school.

The community at my school is great and the staff are so helpful. Your colleagues are another resource for your training – they’ll give you advice, cheer you up or just tell you how to work the photocopier.

They have their jobs to do as well, so they won’t all be seeking you out. Don’t expect to be the centre of attention.

But if you’re nice to them and help them out, you’ll get a lot of help from them back.

That sense of community really comes out in Parents’ Evenings too – I find them really rewarding. Parents are enthusiastic about their kids and grateful that you are helping them learn.

It can help you understand that child better and develop that bigger picture. You can see the other side of the coin too – the parents who never turn up – and it can give you more compassion for those kids.

4. Mistakes are part of the process

All trainees have bad lessons. Now Teach really communicated this before I started and your mentors and other trainees will repeat it too.

Training is the process of going from zero to whatever your full power will be.

So don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad lesson. It would be weird if you were consistently great from Day One – training is the process of going from zero to whatever your full power will be. You’ll make lots of mistakes and you’ll learn a lot from those mistakes.

That can be hard when you’ve got used to spending lots of energy removing even the sniff of a mistake from your work in a corporate context! You might be fixing it behind the scenes, but you don’t let anyone know.

One of my biggest learnings was that students must always know what they should be doing during a lesson. Classroom management, they call it.

My first attempt at a chemistry practical lesson was not good. It wasn’t chaos and so I thought things were going ok, and then I noticed students didn’t know the basics: holding bottles of acid in the wrong way and wandering around the lab. ‘Why are they doing that?’ I thought.

And then I realised, I hadn’t told them how to do it right. Fortunately nothing bad happened, but it was a real lesson.

I was lucky to have a very good teacher with me who – after my car crash lesson - showed me how to run a science demonstration, how to hand out the equipment and – very important - how to get the children to do the tests, clear up the equipment and go through the results. He was really methodical and clear, and it transformed my practical lessons.

In teacher training, mistakes are built-in as part of the process. Practise, reflect, and learn.

5. Get involved in the school community

If you can, don't leave the school on the dot. It's very tempting to walk out the door as soon as you can – you’re tired and potentially coming to terms with a difficult lesson. But becoming part of the wider school community and the extra-curricular activities was a real gift to me.

Doing a club gives real autonomy and a chance to express yourself and engage the students in a different way.

I was lucky enough to get involved with the Science Club - and it helped me in a few ways. It took some workload of the other teachers and I got to know students in a different context, which is good for relationships. It helped me find my feet too.

When you’re teaching and training, it’s very structured, as it should be. But doing a club gives real autonomy and a chance to express yourself and engage the students in a different way.

That autonomy was a real gift. Otherwise you’re following someone else’s plan the entire time. I’d gone from being a decision-maker and deciding how things were run – to being a complete novice at the bottom of the org chart. Finding that small space where I could make decisions, even small ones, felt significant.


So here I am, back in teacher training after my pause. In true teaching fashion, I’m not beating myself but learning from it and passing that on to you.

If you want to become a teacher, I can think of no better way than doing it with Now Teach – from the application advice to the support during training that has helped me so much and a massive part of why I’m still standing in front of that class and learning more every day.


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