Ken – Head of Science

If you enjoy being in the school environment, helping people to understand sometimes difficult topics, and having school holidays(!) then read on to find out more about Ken’s career.

What attracted you to this job?

I loved the variety available in teaching. I can spend a day in the classroom, on the sports field, in the hills, at a conference, or in the lab developing new experiments – or at home writing articles or reading books – and it’s still “all in a day’s work”.

What does your typical day involve?

I usually arrive at school around 7:30am in order to clear any admin that might come up before lessons. I meet with my tutor group at 8:30am and then start teaching at 9am. Usually I teach most of the day and fit in odd tasks around that. After school I try to head home to be with my children so the marking gets left until after they are in bed!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Seeing progress – whether it’s the little light going on in someone’s brain as they get to grips with a simple physics concept, or a student cracking a really tough Oxbridge puzzle. That, and when students come to me with ideas or questions – it’s much easier to teach when the desire to learn is already there. Instilling that desire is the challenge of course…

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My wife works in the city so always says that I provide the balance in doing my bit for society. My mother was a teacher and these things do seem to run in families. I don’t think teaching is a job that sounds glamorous but my friends are envious of the holidays for sure.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

Obviously having the long holidays means I can see a lot of my children, which is great. I do tend to end up on a lot of school trips in the holidays – hill-walking, climbing, camping and so on – so that has to be balanced carefully. And in term time there is always marking and preparation to do which often gets left until after my kids are in bed, so I’m not usually a very sociable person on school nights. Overall it works well. I work hard in the term time and enjoy my holidays and weekends.

How did you get to where you are today?

I set out to be a scientist. I did a BA at Oxford and then a PhD. That was followed by 6 years of post-doctoral work both in the UK and the USA. I found myself doing a lot of teaching – undergraduate tutorials, lectures, labs – and writing explanatory notes and even a maths text for a charity. It dawned on me rather slowly that I was enjoying the teaching side of things rather more than the research and decided to head into that more permanently. At the time, job security was not good in research – you tended to get posts for 1 or 2 years, and they could be anywhere in the world. It sounds glamorous but either living apart from your wife or trying to drag a small family all over the place didn’t appeal to me. Unusually I started in teaching without a qualification, by working in the Independent Sector. Many schools still do not ask for a PGCE or GTP qualification and we now take a lot of scientists straight from research. Having said that, we look for evidence of good communication skills and a strong interest in education.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

Do as much outreach as you can – go into schools to give talks, get involved in open days, lectures, labs and so on. Visit schools and ask if you can teach some lessons. You’ll soon learn if you’ve got what it takes to do this all day. If the thought of a year of study to do a PGCE is off-putting, think about Teach First or the GTP (Graduate Training Programme) routes which get you into the classroom and get you qualified at the same time.

What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

Starting salaries are so variable as they depend on age, qualifications and experience. I’ve always felt well-rewarded but I am well qualified and work very hard!

Out of ‘office hours’, what lights your fire? What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

At home I love to cook and invent recipes, and also to write – fiction, technical articles, educational pieces, anything really. Mainly I love the outdoors – I regularly go cycling, walking or climbing and combine that with photography. I scuba dive fairly well and ski really badly but still enjoy it. If I didn’t get a regular fix of mountain air I think I would go crazy. In term time, a walk in the park with my dog has to suffice, or a session at the climbing wall.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Yes, but none of them will ever appear on FaceBook. Although as more students bring smartphones into the classroom that’s no longer a given!