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Sophie Phelps: English Literature

Anglia Ruskin University PhD graduate Sophie Phelps

Teacher of English

After completing her PhD at ARU in 2020, Dr Sophie Phelps pursued a career in teaching, applying to do a PGCE in post-compulsory education before moving into the secondary sector.

Gaining teaching experience

'I began teaching in 2017 whilst I was doing my PhD’, Sophie recalls. ‘At first, I was teaching on English Literature undergraduate modules at Anglia Ruskin University, and then I began teaching GCSE English at an FE college.

Between 2017 and 2020 I taught on various undergraduate and MA modules at three different higher education institutions. I was also a guest lecturer for Sovereign Education – they are a company who arrange lecture days for GCSE and A Level students. All of the teaching I was doing was on an hourly paid basis, which meant I also had to do other paid work alongside studying for my PhD, and this would vary from retail jobs, museum staff to reception work’.

After completing her PhD in 2020, Sophie went onto pursue teaching as a more permanent career path, applying to do a PGCE in post-compulsory education. Sophie ‘found a sixth-form college that would pay for the qualification, and so for two years I taught English Literature and English Language and Literature A Level at said college. On completion of my PGCE I decided to move into the secondary sector, and now I am employed as a Teacher of English at an independent school.'

"Gain teaching experience if possible [as a PhD student]. It opens up many different career paths in the education sector and beyond."

Finding employment opportunities

To secure her current role, Sophie ‘set up job alerts for independent schools in my local area on Tes.com. I got daily alerts about jobs and applied for my current role through the Tes website. The interview process was across two days and involved a panel interview, a micro-teaching lesson and a safeguarding interview’. Sophie found the Tes website extremely useful for finding teaching roles; she also advises prospective teachers to look at Fejobs.com and Jobs.ac.uk.

In addition, Sophie emphasises the importance of working with your supervisor to find employment opportunities, commenting that ‘my PhD supervisor was incredibly helpful when it came to helping me find employment. He would give me teaching opportunities whenever possible at ARU, and suggested I consider teaching at an independent school. Furthermore, he was, and is still, always willing to write me a reference when I need it.'

Using transferable skills

Sophie certainly feels that her PhD gave her many useful, transferable skills which she continues to employ in her teaching practice. These include: time-management, the ability to multi-task, prioritising work, working to deadlines, teamwork, building strong arguments, proof-reading and editing, effective research methods, and academic writing. In terms of the experiences she gained from working as an associate lecturer, Sophie mentions crafting student-friendly resources, feedback approaches, lesson and lecture planning, and mastering digital technologies.

Speaking from her own experience, Sophie strongly recommends other PhD students to follow in her footsteps and ‘gain teaching experience if possible.’ On a practical level, she says ‘it’s an enjoyable way to earn money’, but it also opens up many different career paths in the education sector and beyond. Sophie also advises PhD students do not ‘just consider undergraduate teaching’ but ‘FE and below can be really enjoyable’ too.

"I really enjoy working with young people. [It's] really rewarding watching them develop both academically and as people."

Is teaching for me?

So, how can you find out if teaching is a possible career path for you?

‘If you are unsure about secondary teaching, why not try being a Teaching Assistant for a while?’ Sophie suggests. ‘It is a good opportunity to see if you like the school environment. Academies and independent schools love PhDs – and they are not legally required to hire teachers who have QTS (qualified teaching status). My PGCE was in Post-Compulsory education, so I don’t have QTS. You can always drop the school an email and double check before you submit your application. I often emailed them first and they always encouraged me to apply. Lastly, if you are having to do other paid work alongside teaching, reception work is a good option, especially if you can get gym reception work. The atmosphere is laid back, and shift work means you can be more flexible around any teaching you might be doing.'

In post-compulsory level teaching, Sophie has found a career path where she can continue to build on the teaching skills she gained during her PhD, and she ‘really enjoys working with young people’. Sophie finds it ‘really rewarding watching them develop both academically and as people. When the A-Level results day came round it was extremely gratifying to see my students achieve, and in some instance surpass, their predicted grades and secure places at their chosen universities. Students put a lot of trust in you as their teacher, and it is rewarding to see them improve under your instruction.'

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