Work Experience – Mentor – University of Sheffield

Contributor: Charlotte

What?  Mentor for the University of Sheffield

Why did you choose this place? I had worked with younger children and wanted experience working with teenagers.

How did you find the application process? The application process was typical of many jobs. There was an application form and then an interview, the interview was fairly informal involving working in a group which definitely helped my nerves!  Before starting my second year of mentoring I was invited to be a lead mentor responsible for the group of mentors in my assigned school.

What do you do here? I work with young people on both a 1:1 basis and in the classroom to act as a role model and mentor.  I help to raise their achievements and aspirations by targeting subject areas students are having trouble with or by helping them to research careers they’re interested in.  ‘Widening participation’  is another aspect of my role,  whereby groups who are typically underrepresented in Higher Education such as low income or single parent families are encouraged to reach their potential and attend University.

As a mentor I have worked in two very different secondary schools. First was one with a ‘satisfactory’ judgement from OFSTED whilst the second was deemed to be ‘good’.  Seeing such different teaching environments really opened my eyes to how the school which you attend as a child affects your future.

The good things: I have often found the role rewarding when you can provide answers to questions the pupils have struggled to find themselves. Whether these are questions about careers, university, or just tips for handing homework in on time- you can see the impact you’re having on a young person.

Being a linguist, my first school was particularly interesting. Many pupils were new to the country and had a limited understanding of English which proved to be a major barrier to their learning. It showed how knowledge of TESOL could prove useful to those wanting to enter teaching in the UK and not just those wanting to teach abroad.

The bad things: If the children aren’t having a good day or if it’s snowing(!) it can be difficult keeping them on task, I’ve definitely had to learn to be more patient. Also, entering the schools for the first time was daunting but the teachers were all very welcoming so my initial anxieties were quickly forgotten.
Anything else we should know: Despite not wanting to be a teacher when I graduate, the experience has made me want to work in Education or more generally in the public sector. Seeing how you can help improve people’s lives despite only seeing them once a week definitely made me eager to know what you could do with more time! I believe my linguistics degree will put me in good stead for such roles, it has taught me to be more organised and a better communicator. Additionally, what I thought was just an interest in people’s language when beginning my degree; I now see is a wider interest in people’s lives. So I’m thankful to both my Linguistics degree and experiences like mentoring which have helped me to discover the route I want to take after graduation.


Work Placement – English Monitor for Summer School, Alicante, Spain

Contributor: Tom

Where? Primary School in Alicante, Spain

What? “English Monitor for Summer School”

Why did you choose this place? In a lecture in my first year at university, my tutor advertised this job. Lurking at the back of my mind was the thought that, perhaps one day, I’ll want to become a teacher. It seemed a perfect opportunity to see if this was the best career path to follow – I was simply helping out.

How did you find the application process? Easy. I emailed the school along with my CV. They replied and accepted me and my friend on the same degree course as me. They said they accepted me because I seemed keen and they were looking for people who can’t speak Spanish (which I couldn’t). I assumed this was to ensure the kids were in a “total immersion” environment.

What do you do here? We (me, my friend from university plus two PGCE graduates) arrived in Alicante, and were briefed on the schools’ expectations of us over the next five weeks. We were expecting to be assisting teachers – but it turned out we were expected to be the teachers ourselves! We were given a timetable each and shown a cupboard of their teaching materials. We were then told to just get on with planning lessons every weekday for four weeks for six different groups, the oldest being around 14, the youngest being only a few months old… I was slightly concerned about the first day, but as I knew that the school knew that I had no teaching experience, surely they won’t be expecting too much from us?

In the first lesson I was in charge of a group of around twenty 3-year-olds. Luckily I was accompanied with their teacher, but she spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish. After around ten minutes of awkward bumbling around, I found a box of brightly coloured toy animals. I made stupid animal noises and said the name of the animal. I soon learnt that 3-year-old children like making animal noises (kids are strange), so I taught animals (because all Spanish kids need to know the English word for “lion”), colours, a few numbers and probably some other bits.

Lesson 2, where I taught 10-year-olds, was much more difficult. Their proficiency in English ranged from “excellent” to “only-here-because-parents-can’t-be-bothered-to-look-after-their-kids”. From a novice’s perspective, lesson planning became a nightmare. My saving grace came when I was dragged away from the lesson for an “emergency meeting”.  Apparently we had been receiving “negative feedback” from both the kids and the principal. So I said


Except I didn’t say that: while I was utterly livid and immediately regretted boarding the flight to Spain, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to live in Alicante for as long and as cheaply as possible and, well, I wanted to do this right – I figured it’d be best to keep on. We all continued the rest of our first day, with varying levels of success, and stayed behind afterwards to plan lessons. I was utterly knackered. And that was only the first day.

By week two, things got much better. I got into the swing of planning lessons each day and allowing my creativity to run riot. I wrote songs, made a treasure hunt and basically ran around the school pretending to be a pirate/dinosaur/robot, all in the good name of “education”. Sure, there were some really stressful moments, but I started really enjoying the job when I could see that the kids were actually remembering the things you taught them.

The school lasted for four weeks. In the fifth week the English Teachers went up camping in the nearby mountains along with a whole new bunch of students, this time aged between 10-15 years. By that time my brain had nearly fried itself from both overheating and overworking, but as the students were new I could repeat a lot of the language games I’d either learnt or made up while at the school

The good things: I got to live in Alicante, got paid 100€ per week with free accommodation and lunch, and I had enough time to explore and enjoy myself.
I learnt a lot about time management and planning ahead. Even though I had some pretty terrible days at the school, I left my job happy and immensely proud at what I had achieved. I met some great people, including most of the (non-management) staff at the school, and have a new found respect for all teachers everywhere.

Also I never want to teach children. Never.

The bad things: I got sunburnt, I lost my voice, I spent more money than I actually earned, and to top it all off, in the last week I was assigned a completely different class where the teacher left with me, alone, in charge of thirty children. A fat kid then spat on me.

Anything else we should know: When applying for jobs and work experience, especially abroad, research the employers and the position as thoroughly as you can. Ask questions and try to establish exactly what you’ll be doing. I certainly felt at a disadvantage purely because I had no idea that the job would be that difficult.
In spite of that I’m actually glad I did take the job. I most certainly would have regretted leaving or even never going in the first place.
I ramble a lot and I can be an incoherent writer. Coupled with the fact that the whole experience seems so long ago I feel like I might have missed some sort of vital information here. So if you have any questions at all I’d be more than happy to respond in the comments below.

Work Placement – English Language Assistant (France) – TESOL

Contributor: Stacey
Where? Lycee Louis Armand, Paris
What? English Language Assistant
Why did you choose this place? I needed to find work placements during my Erasmus year abroad in Paris and this seemed like a good opportunity.
How did you find the application process? Quite straight forward. My university promoted the placement to us and handed us the application forms. However, I am aware that you can apply through the British Council website online as well.
What do you do here? I planned and taught English lessons to college students aged from 15-25, including both one-to-one sessions and classes of up to 15. I had 12 hours of teaching a week.
The good things: Well paid – 800 euros a month for 12 hours a week (although you usually spend a couple of hours a week extra planning). The minimal hours mean that you have extra time to explore the country that you are living in. It’s also good to have on your CV that you have worked for the British Council. You can be sent as far as Latin America and Canada if you want to. You do not need a TEFL qualification.
The bad things: Kids and teenagers can be difficult to work with! Having said that you are not there to discipline so you can always get a teacher if you are having problems. Some teachers will just want to use you to ‘get rid’ of some of their pupils for a while so may lump you with half their class without much guidance. You have to cover transport costs to and from the country you are working in.
Anything else we should know: You don’t have to be student or on Erasmus to get this role – graduates can apply too. In fact, some countries are only open to graduates.