I’ve just finished my first half term back in teaching, after a break of two years, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my journey.
I came into teaching after university and a few years of academic research. I loved being in the classroom: sharing my knowledge and skills, and helping other people develop, was always part of my own education, so doing it as a career seemed an ideal choice.
And it was for quite some time. I was promoted to become the head of my subject in my second year of teaching, then Head of Science a couple years of later. The career moves fitted in with my desire to have more of a say in what I was doing, and helped my personal circumstances – a growing family requires quite some funding.
At the back of my mind, however, was a nagging doubt that I hadn’t really taken long enough to hone my teaching craft before stepping into management and leadership. I was still learning how to teach my classes at the same time as mentoring PGCE students and NQTs. As a Head of Department, I was also managing staff with many more years experience than myself, which I found particularly stressful. Despite this, the departments ran well, students achieved, teaching and support staff were developed and senior management seemed satisfied.
Over time, however, the pressures of running a core subject department, improving my own teaching and being there for my family took their toll. My health was starting to suffer, and I found myself working far too much in the evenings, weekends and holidays. I decided to make a change for my health and wellbeing.
A position was advertised at a local examination board which promised to give me a different perspective on education. It would also allow me to rebalance my working life and be the parent and husband that I wanted to be.
I was very happy for a year, but every time I went into a school or college, I felt a pang of jealously. Despite all the stresses of the job, these teachers were working with students day-in day-out, directly affecting their life chances – something I didn’t have in the new job.
So, with internal reorganisation at work underway, and some uncertainty in the long-term nature of my role, I took the plunge and started looking at teaching jobs again. I was clear with myself, and prospective school leaders, about what I was looking for. I wanted to spend some time ‘just’ teaching, focusing on what I do in the classroom and how I can better teach and support students in their growing knowledge and understanding of the subject that I love. So I searched for a position that didn’t have any formal management role – and I haven’t looked back.
I was lucky that my new school has a long induction – two days for new staff before the start of term and then a further two days days of INSET. This gave me plenty of opportunity to get my feet under the table before my students arrived. On the first teaching day, I had the same nervousness and excitement I have always had when starting in a new school. Within a fortnight, however, it was as though I had never been out of the classroom.
So here I am, half a term in. There are some downsides: it’s quite a long commute, the school day is long and you are expected to get involved in extracurricular activities. I don’t see my family as much as before, but this is balanced out by not having so much work to take home. While the extracurricular activities are hard to manage, it has helped my professional development and I have time during the school day to plan and assess, develop resources and have professional discussions with members of the department. And, with almost all of my timetabled lessons on my main subject, the planning process is much easier.
Mostly, however, my sense of professional pride and satisfaction has returned on a day-by-day basis. I know the students are learning well, and I am continuing to grow as a teacher. I may well return to positions of leadership and management, but I have found roles outside school – such as through my subject association or social media – that are just as valuable to me.
My main point is that progression in one’s career needn’t just be through the traditional Head of Subject/Department/Faculty (or equivalent pastoral routes) to senior leadership. In a time when we are so much more connected on a country (and worldwide) basis, looking outside our immediate environment can be enriching and fulfilling. It can sustain us in a career, which while taxing, does genuinely make a difference to people’s lives, and one that I’m glad to back in.
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