Secondary school teaching has traditionally been the most popular career path for language graduates. European integration and internationalisation has brought new opportunities that have permanently changed the perception of language teaching as the only ‘real’ option. Those who decide to pursue a teaching career need to be interested, enthusiastic and possess the necessary qualities and aptitudes.
Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession for the right candidate. It is demanding and diverse, and offers opportunities for continual learning and development, both inside and outside the classroom. The secondary teacher normally deals with all levels of subject knowledge, from raw beginners in their first year to higher level Leaving Certificate students. While the curriculum content for languages and its objectives remain largely unchanged from year to year, the creative scope for how it is delivered can be broad and exciting.
The secondary teacher works a maximum of 22 class-contact hours a week. In addition, a lot of hours are spent in lesson planning, correcting and, at times, extracurricular activities. Some schools close for a half-day on Wednesday and the holidays are excellent: two weeks at Christmas and Easter, three months for the summer break and a week’s mid-term in autumn and spring. However the nature of the work is intense – a lot of teachers claim they expend a lot of nervous energy, particularly on disciplinary issues.
It cannot be emphasised enough that the teacher’s job is challenging; the task of the teacher is to instil a love and enthusiasm for the subject by employing a creative and versatile approach in a system that is rigidly exam focused. In addition to this, the job of earning the respect of the students whilst maintaining discipline demands a rich range of resources on the part of the teacher.
Who would it suit?
The ‘ideal’ teacher needs to be in possession of a rich range of resources, qualities and skills in order to enjoy the job and do it effectively. Two essential qualities for successful teaching are the ability to relate well to young people and to have enthusiasm and a love for your subjects. Energy, drive, self-motivation, adaptability, creativity and excellent communication skills are all highly desirable qualities and skills.
Self-confidence and a genuine positive regard for teenagers are also vital attributes in the classroom, while good organisational and administrative abilities are very important for classroom preparation. Discipline is becoming an increasing problem in schools; the parameters for enforcing discipline in second-level institutions are narrowing and classroom teachers are having to adopt respectful, humanistic, person-centred or behavioural models. Therefore it really is vital for the potential teacher to develop and sustain many of the attributes and qualities mentioned above. Teachers who fail to do this adequately can find themselves overstressed and burnt out after a number of years.