Long gone are the days when we enter a career in our youth and solemnly stick with it, for better or worse, for decades until retirement. Many professions have members moving on to pursue other interests elsewhere, or joining from outside in mid-life, and the teaching profession is no exception.
The need for mature entrants and the opportunities to move between phases often mean that the profession is highly attractive to those already with extensive work and life experience.
I caught up with just a few of the professionals who changed career to become teachers in various phases to find out about their experiences of joining, and moving within, the teaching profession…
Vivien Rolfe worked in the pet care manufacturing industry as a researcher and nutritionist before becoming a teacher….
“I spent seven years in my previous career before doing teacher training, and reached management level with a team of 20+ researchers. But I was attracted to the teaching profession through a combination of my dad being unwell, and wanting to get back into human research. Plus, I had a desire to 'give something back'. Teaching in higher education offered me the chance for both so I worked at Nottingham University to try and get some research off the ground, plus teach biology to nursing students. I loved it.
“To qualify, I applied for fellowship of the Higher Education Academy and I have now progressed through all four stages to the highest level of Principal Fellow. I also have other national fellowships for teaching and digital learning.
“I am now an Associate Head of a Science department. It was definitely a good move for me to enter the teaching profession. I just love teaching - the diversity of learners, their backgrounds, their cultures and their aspirations. So coming into academia was good despite the enormous pressures these days.
“If you want to become a teacher I recommend engaging in professional development and gaining as many qualifications as you can, as you will benefit hugely from the knowledge and also a network of people.”
It was the opportunity for personally fulfilling work that attracted Dr Howard Scott to the teaching profession…
“Before becoming a teacher, I worked as an editor on various titles for small publishing companies for several years with varying degrees of fulfilment. Teaching was something I’d never considered, so in one sense it seemed to me a curious new world for a career and as I’m inquisitive I started to look into it. I perceived a world where people could be creative and self-directed in their work, which matched with what I already did, but also that it could be personally fulfilling and meaningful in ways I hadn’t up to that point experienced in my working life.
“Communication underpinned everything I anticipated of teaching and as a writer I felt that I had a bit of a gift for communicating that would be put to different tests in teaching. Without being academic, I’ve always loved discovering, whether through reading, travel, asking questions, conversation or learning formally. I felt that enthusiasm for knowledge would be good currency as a teacher.
“Finally, I remember becoming very numb to the rigmarole of going to a desk in an office every day in an environment (journalism) that should have been creative, but seemed full of triviality: egos and laborious toil. It’s not what I think of work as being. The atmosphere of an office can be silent and deadening in many respects. Imagining that a classroom by comparison can be chaotic, fun, noisy, messy and profound and – significantly – which is determined by its members’ experiences, attitudes and behaviours, seemed to give my imagination a charge for what was possible.
“It was a challenge to change career and one I really wanted to give myself. After being made redundant for the third time by another failing publishing company, I went abroad and taught English for a year. This gave me an insight and conviction and I started to look at routes in to the profession. It was still two years of more journalism before I took the decision and applied for a PGCE through the University of Greenwich in post-compulsory education. Somehow I imagined I’d teach journalism but ended up teaching media and English. I spent a year on my PGCE and got part-time hours in a college in London before it ended, then continued on picking up more hours teaching different courses over different sites. It was quite self-directed, more than I bargained for, perhaps, but I had a supportive boss and plugged away, thinking I knew it all, but learning quickly as you do. I’d decided quite early on that I wanted to complement what I have done with an MA in order to have a good status of qualification and that lead to more opportunities for personal and career development. I’ve since completed a doctorate in Technology Enhanced Learning – research that is directly situated and faithful to FE teaching and learning issues and experiences.
“This year I began working as a lecturer in Initial Teacher Education in post-compulsory education in a university. I also teach on MA and some EdD modules and continue with research.
“Moving into teaching, framed especially in Further Education, was one of the best decisions I ever made. Being in a classroom gives incredible energy and meaning to ‘work’, so much so that you just can’t consider it work in the normal sense. I’m glad that I changed professions in order to be able to make that distinction and to reflect and draw from that other profession enrichens my sense of vocation even more. Colleges are made-up of such a wealth of stories and experiences that all contribute to a community promoting social inclusion, among marginalised people, empowering disenfranchised people to transform their lives, revealing people’s latent capabilities and confidence. It’s really profound. “If you’re considering going into teaching, develop your subject and pedagogical knowledge, plan accordingly and always commit to giving your students the optimum learning experience that they deserve to have. That responsibility and opportunity is down to you as a teacher, which is highly rewarding.”
Find out more…
Thinking of making the move into the teaching profession? The Get Into Teaching site may help https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/career-changers
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.