17 Jun

‘Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach”. Untrue, isn’t it? Surely there has to be a kernel of truth in there somewhere? I mean, if you were a real scientist (insert career-choice related to your degree), then you’d be working in a lab saving the world, surely? Teaching is for those who got a ‘Desmond’ and couldn’t get a proper job, yeah? I mean, I went to school, how hard can it be? Plus you get all those holidays!

Feeling riled up yet? Fingers itching to bang out your response on your keyboard like you’re jabbing your finger in my chest? Good! I’ve achieved my goal here.

The Twitter post by Jagdeep Pabla (@j_pabla_) – explaining how she was quite rudely told that “career changers are in teaching for the wrong reasons. They don’t care about the children only the money” is a common comment made by career-teachers with negative perceptions of career-changers. I don’t know where this idea originates; I have a notion though.

When you are a career-teacher, you chose to become one. You knew straight off the bat that you wanted to spend your life teaching the next generation. Some will have family connections in education. Some want to make a difference to the world; to be on the coal-face changing social injustices. Some of you followed your passion for a subject through to university, and then realised that the best way to continue that passion was to teach it. How do I know this to be true? I recruited trainee teachers from undergraduates on a university campus whilst I was there. I have heard it from the horses’ mouths.

Career-changers are different animals altogether. Many already have their degrees, and went into the workplace. Some, like me, had successful non-graduate careers in industry or public services and like Ryde Academy’s (@RydeAcademy) Principal, Joy Ballard, went to university later in life to gain our degrees. So what does drive us into a profession where the mean starting salary for a 21 year-old graduate is £29kpa (some report closer to £22.5kpa), often well below the salaries of those of us with a few years in the workplace?

The raison d’etre for career-changers entering the profession varies, just as it does for career-teachers. For most that I speak to (and I speak to lots looking at coming into the profession at teach meets and recruitment events), the common thread is a sense of wanting to make a positive change to the lives of young people. For some, there is a sense of wanting to be like the teacher that they had (as my mate, @jazampawfarr will tell you) or to be the teacher they wish they had because of a negative experience. I will be honest, and say money is often discussed, but only in the sense of the fact teachers should be paid more.

This is where they martyrdom of  “for the kids” teaching comes in. I hope these words are taken as only supportive. As a Royal Holloway University of London graduate, I am well versed in equality – we were the university that was built especially to educate women, and our colours are those of the Suffragettes because of our links to the movement.

Teaching is ‘women’s work’, just as nursing and midwifery. We are told they are vocations. We “do it for the kids”. While we have our own regurgitating this narrative like it is something to be proud of, then we will never see our profession paid for the impact we have on society. We will never recruit the numbers of men into Primary and EYFS that are needed. I am a professional. I have a 2:1 BSc (hons) in Biology. I gained QTS through my ITT with Birmingham City University as an “outstanding trainee”, and finished my Postgraduate Diploma in Education the following year. I am currently working on my Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education Masters in Leadership in Learning. I am not special in my list of qualifications. My point is, as a profession, we need to stop promoting that we “do it for the kids” for us to be seen as anything other than childminders – I hope that we return from lockdown with society having a different mindset to what it was before, and those who push this narrative see the true worth of the profession.

I cannot write on this topic without addressing the reasoning behind my own career-change. Take a look at my Twitter profile, and you will see something I wrote years ago:– “Why teach?” Changes in a classroom change lives. Change lives, change communities. Change communities, change the world! –This was written because I was constantly asked by my friends why the hell I had given up my well paid job and benefits to live as a student for four years, and take a salary that was less than half of my last for the next few years. I knew that I wanted to make a change in my life and in the world around me; those that have read my blog post (How a seed was planted) will know the tragic circumstances behind my drastic life choice. What I didn’t expect was for this choice to be the death knell of my marriage, and for me to be living 150 miles away from my own children. What I can say is that this choice is one I would not change. My life and that of my family is infinitely better because I chose to make a positive difference in the world in order to fill a gaping void that appeared since leaving the Army.

I make no apologies for seeing Joy Ballard as a role model. For those who don’t know the name, she was the Head Teacher on Educating Cardiff. I had the absolute privilege of working with her and Ruth Griffiths-Nash (@glitterstars77) at Ryde Academy back in 2016, when I was part of the Teach First Insight Programme – Where those eligible to teach STEM subjects are afforded the opportunity to have the experience of school life for two weeks. For me, this was gaining experience to support my ITT application; I was at university explicitly to become a Science teacher. I learnt about Joy’s past and her route into teaching. I had been deliberately placed on the Isle of Wight so that I could work with someone like me. ( Watch this video – Joy Ballard at the SSAT National Conference 2016 ). This experience gave me a fundamental appreciation of the impact dedicated and principled leadership could do for a community, and inspired me to be more like Joy – make a difference to the community I served.

Now I have been in leadership since I was 20, when I was promoted to become a non-commissioned officer in the British Army. I completed my leadership training, and have had responsibilities that have seen my skills tested in high pressure situations. I was fortunate enough to serve under Major General Patrick Marriott, who became the Commandant of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, influencing what I would argue are some of the world’s best leaders. He taught us three core values that I know every soldier who has served under him can recite: “All of one company”, “Think to the finish” (from Edmund Allenby) and “Do as you ought, not as you want”. These were formally incorporated into British Army leadership doctrine in 2012 and form the ‘ethos’ of the Royal Lancers. These values influence who I am as a person, as a father, as a leader, and as a teacher.

I don’t hide the fact that I want to move into school leadership. I have experience and domain-specific skills (project management, organisational management, H&S management, customer relationship management, ethical leadership etc) that are valuable for schools – remember that the domain-specific knowledge is applied to different contexts, so these skills can be transferred to new contexts more quickly that a novice learning them as they go in one context. Again, I am not alone in this aspiration. Many that have moved from leadership roles outside of education enjoy leadership and the buzz this gives when a team succeeds. I want to progress as quickly as is sustainable and effective. This is not a case of wanting to chase money, it is wanting to bring my experience and knowledge to bear, and effect (and affect) change; please see my quote above.

So what does this mean for the ‘mood-hoovers’ in our schools (or indeed on EduTwitter)? I hear comments made often, both to me and other; I really don’t think they are intended to be spiteful, most of the time:

“You’ve not got the experience” – Should be 'You haven’t had the same experience as me, and I haven’t put myself forward for it'.

“You have no idea what it is like to lead in high-pressure situations” – ex-Army Non-Commissioned Officer, remember?

“You couldn’t cope with the logistics around running a department” – I ran the movement of equipment for the MOD on civilian vehicles on the run up to the invasion of Afghanistan, and have had hundreds of staff, vehicles and subcontractors working for me each day. Putting the right thing, in the right place at exactly the right time was my bread and butter.

“You’ve never experienced anything like an Ofsted” – An inspection by the Regional Traffic Commissioner or the Health and Safety Executive can lead to a court date and imprisonment.

“You need more time in the classroom” – Rosenshine’s Principles are what the manual of military instruction was based on. I’ve been teaching others using these since I was 19.This is not to say I even profess to know it all. What my experience has taught me is to seek support, advice, or even bounce an idea off someone with more experience (see the Old Dogs and New Tricks blog for more details). Those that know me through the BrewEds I organise (@BrewEdDerby @BrewEdMansfield and @BrewEdNottm) or have spoken at, will vouch – I ask more questions than I answer, because I am constantly learning and developing as an educational professional – and that is what I believe is key. Career-changers know we need to learn new skills or adapt to apply existing ones to new contexts.

I would urge career-teachers to take into account the fact that not all paths to the same destination are the same. My route is very different to most – arguably closer to those that have done ‘Troops to Teachers’, except I believe most of those didn’t gain a subject specific degree. I think career-changers are often seen as having failed in a previous career, so moved on to teaching. If this was always the case, I refer you, dear reader, back to the phrase that riled you “Those that can’t, teach“. Is that true of yourself? I doubt you would agree. Please consider, do you actually know the background of the person you direct these comments to, or are you making a broad and generic statement based on how you perceive another’s career to be progressing in comparison to your own (year on year, like for like)?In this career-changers mind, we are “all of one company”. We all want to see the children we teach succeed. We all have the same goals. It doesn’t matter our route in, we are on the same team here. As teachers we have to “think to the finish” and the impact what we do in the classroom, and as a school has on the communities we serve. The last five weeks have seen school communities “do as you ought, not as you want”. We have fed, clothed, and cared for the most vulnerable families in society at a time when the system hasn’t been able to do so. We have provided hospitals and care homes with PPE. We have shared our resources freely, and not sought fame or payment for doing so. We have called “our kids” to check they are ok, and reassured parents that we will make sure their children are not going to be left behind.

So, please do me a favour, the next time you want to use the phrase “in it for the kids” think of how you are undervaluing the years you have spent in a postgraduate profession, and your own value to society. None of us entered for the fame, glory and money. To label anyone seeking to progress in our system as “in it for the money” really misses out the sacrifice (for me £50k+ of student debt, missed salary of over £200k for uni and a marriage), and the fact that we could be earning “the money” elsewhere with less effort and resentment from a minority in our ranks.

For those wondering: I also gained a new relationship with an amazing midwife (@ciepkiewicz) so I cannot complain about how things panned out. My kids fully support me wanting to work in one of the UKs most socially deprived areas. My career-change has made me and them more socially aware of our advantages, and driven to help others. My kids are better students because they have seen me model being a student. Oh, and I guess the son of a cleaner, and HGV driver is now middle class!

I can’t grumble at the lot I have because of the decision I made. Seeing a mate buried really made me realise, making sure your Barclaycard bill was delivered wasn’t going to make me happy. Now, I am much happier in who I am as a person. For me teaching has probably saved my life.  

Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - April 2020

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