Choosing your specialism

Many people seem to have a specialism picked out, an idea of what they want to teach once they have completed Ptlls. But not everyone. And it can always be changed. We’re going to have a look at choosing a specialism to pursue or how to about-turn and set off on a new path. Ptlls will teach you how to teach but it can’t stand on its own, it needs to be paired with your specialism – all that knowledge and passion.

It’s most likely that your specialism will be your job and / or your qualifications. Often those two things are linked anyway. Because Ptlls tends more towards the vocational most people teach what they know. After building up your knowledge and experience you want to train the next generation in your field. Or you want a change of pace from all the travelling / night shifts / etcetera but you want to stay in the industry.

You normally need at least a level 3 qualification in the subject you want to tutor. That is A level / NVQ3 equivalent. Sometimes you will need higher. Which means it is easier to get in to teaching whatever you have already got under your belt. For example I have a History degree, so it makes sense for me to teach History because I already have the right qualifications and plenty of subject knowledge.

The above two reasons are persuasive but they are understandably not for everyone. Ptlls may be marking a change in career and getting in to a new area. You may not want to teach in the same vein as your qualifications – if you took them even just a few years ago your ardour may have cooled. So here are some more ideas you might want to think about…

If you are already taking a course for your new specialism show you are on your way. Often times a prospective employer will give as much credit for someone being willing to get themselves qualified or having already started a qualification, even if they have not already completed. That can apply to Ptlls too. So check for job advertisements that mention that or give them a call and say you are currently training or willing to train and see what they say. And once you get in to teaching it will be easier to move to something new by helping out in another subject or covering classes and you may be able to get further training in a new area from your employer.

Think about teaching in adult basic education where subjects are more general and lower level. Or English for speakers of other languages. Both of these are specialisms in their own right and not to be taken lightly but are easier to get in to for people with less industry experience. You can then take more training in those areas or build up your teaching experience to move in to other subjects.

Look at your talents and passions. Notice that preceding sentence says nothing about skills, experience or knowledge. Those can be developed and are often quite subject specific but you will have “soft skills” that over-arch particular subjects or talents you are not fully utilising in whatever you are currently doing. Friends and family may see something in you that you don’t so talk to people about what they see as your strengths. What can you leverage from one area to bring in to another? You can work outwards from a current job or your qualifications – in my history example it would be pretty easy to move from history to lots of other subjects such as philosophy, religious education, human geography, museum studies and politics because they really overlap. Or I could use the things I love about history and have a talent for such as doing really intricate research and move them in to a different area where they would really help like law or librarianship.

Get careers advice even if you are completely blank. A careers adviser will look for trends and things to build up on and move in to. They will have lots of resources and ideas even if you don’t have a clue what you want to do. You can find careers advisers at¬†National Careers Service (previously¬†Next Step) both online and face to face in many centres across the country. Colleges and universities also have careers advisers who can talk to you about any and all courses, not just theirs and you don’t already need to be a student to use them.

There’s lots of room for manoeuvre here but ultimately you need to be teaching something you really care about. Teaching can be hard and there are going to be times you need big reserves of passion and dedication to fall back on. If you aren’t passionate about your subject your learners won’t be either. On the up side if you are doing something you love that enthusiasm will be infectious and you will love every moment of it.


  1. 3 October, 2011
  2. 8 January, 2014
  3. 13 January, 2014
  4. 20 February, 2015
  5. 22 October, 2015
  6. 5 July, 2016

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