It is not uncommon for people to move into teaching after spending some time working in a different career or profession. For some, the motivation is simply to generate change in their lives mid-career; to do something with more variety perhaps, or something more challenging. For others there is a genuine desire to give back to society and to share their skills.
Regardless of the motivations for joining the teaching profession, there are, inevitably, some challenges to be aware of, as well as joys to anticipate. Yet being able to use your experiences and skills in a new career such as teaching can be incredibly refreshing and rewarding.
Min Schulenburg had a career in journalism before training to teach as a teacher. “I was a sub-editor, staff writer, editor of fashion and beauty trade publications and then consumer magazines for example BBC Publications, Clothes Show, GQ, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan,” Min said. “After marrying, moving to Germany and having children, I returned to London as a freelance writer. I found juggling work and childcare difficult and commissions increasingly difficult to secure. At the same time, I helped out in my children’s Early Years classes and was impressed with the environment and quality of the teaching. The head encouraged me to consider teacher training and, after work experience in a variety of schools, I decided that I would be better suited to upper KS2. I then worked for a year as a special educational needs teaching assistant, and applied for teacher training.”
Training can pose difficulties for potential career changers. Some may need to work alongside their studies which puts immense pressure of time and other commitments such as parenting and caring. Methods of study may be different from previous experiences, too, which can be challenging. For Min, who trained via the Wandsworth SCITT (Kingston University) PGCE, with work experience at two south London schools (one of which offered her an NQT position), there were some difficulties to overcome in the transition to training after working in a different field. “The huge amount of non-teaching duties – admin, displays, data input, unnecessary marking and so on – that contributed to workload but not the quality of my planning, teaching and assessment needed to be overcome. The submission of data, planning and marking at times in my career was utterly unnecessary and onerous. In addition, observations varied completely from school to school and on many occasions were unnecessarily stressful.” It is important to discuss any such difficulties with your tutors, mentors and line managers. It may be that additional support can be put in place or adjustments made in the expectations made of you.
After training, Min went on to become a classroom teacher in Key Stage two with other roles at various points including head of English, history co-ordinator, and staff governor. I asked Min whether teaching was what she expected it to be. “Yes and no,” Min explained. “The personal fulfilment of teaching and supporting ‘my’ class was overwhelmingly satisfying, much more than I had expected. The relationship with parents could be more difficult than anticipated, but were overcome effectively with support from the senior leadership team. They knew the ‘tricky’ parents.”
There will be challenges and joys in all jobs and teaching is no exception. For Min, working with children with special educational needs was both the most challenging and the most fulfilling element of the job. “Also,” Min said, “getting families on board after they had become disillusioned, finding new ways of engaging children and building trust with parents. I also loved organising events for the whole school community, such as an eco-fashion show, school performances, spelling bees, and so on. I also adored being head of English and staff governor in a school that had just been judged RI (Requires Improvement – an Ofsted judgement) and was in a state of flux. I feel I really made a lasting impact on the school’s policies and its ethos. Because of my background in journalism and role as a governor, I wrote and edited the recruitment materials for the new head, working closely with the entire board of governors and local education authority. This was above and beyond my role as a class teacher and enormously fulfilling.
“I never wanted a role in school management per se as I wanted to remain class-based, but as English lead I rewrote the school policies and supported my colleagues with staff meetings, training, team-teaching and informal support. This was hugely fulfilling and very effective. I forged great relationships with most staff and became a valuable resource across the school. I also learnt about Early Years and KS1, gaining valuable insight for my practice further up the school.”
Min offers potential career changers some excellent advice to help with the transition into teaching:
- Choose your school wisely, especially for your NQT year. When you are being shown round, look at how the staff react to the head and the senior leadership team. Is there an air of fear?!
- Follow edu-Twitter. Do not be too opinionated, especially at first, but use it wisely for continuing professional development.
- Learn the ropes before taking on management roles, and when you do, be wise how you ‘police’ school policies - strive to be fair.
- Be very prepared for a heavy workload – warn your partner, friends and family as you will most probably need their support and understanding.
- Do not become a teacher for the holidays and short hours; you will use a lot of your ‘free’ time to plan and mark.
- Be patient and kind with yourself. Teaching and the politics in schools can knock the stuffing out of you on occasion!
- Make friends with the non-teaching staff – sometimes premises managers, dinner ladies and office staff spend a lot more time chatting informally to the children and the families than you will do and they are a valuable source of information when things are going wrong at home or in the playground.
Teaching is fundamentally about helping young people to learn and to thrive in life. If you think that’s the job for you, regardless of what you have been doing so far in your working life, go for it!
Find out more…
There may be some assistance available to you to ease your transition into training to teach so it is worth checking this link to find out more.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.