At our first Now Teach Information Evening this year, a gentleman stood up and asked us a challenging question: ‘Why do you say your experience counts? You say that nothing can prepare you for that first term of teaching? So does my experience count or not?’
Guest Contributor: Elizabeth Place
The simple answer is, yes and no. Your experience counts because the things you have learned and bring with you into the classroom will enable you to make a difference to young people’s futures. But whilst you have so much experience outside of teaching, you still have a lot to learn when it comes to teacher training.
So if you are reading this and looking to change career to teaching, I want you to know that you do have something incredibly valuable to give young people and schools. But you shouldn’t be under any illusions – changing career is both liberating and challenging in equal measure, but who isn’t up for a challenge?
We expect that most experienced professionals will be unskilled at teaching 30 or so secondary school students. There’ll be a steep learning curve as you train and, if anything, there will be some unlearning of particular habits and ways of working!
That first training year is undoubtedly a step far outside your comfort zone. The techniques of being a teacher must be mastered and the stakes are high. But this is exactly the reason why retraining is so exciting.
With so much new information coming from all sides, it can often be difficult for you to assimilate your past experience into this new role and make the connections. You’ll get there but it takes time; you will need to draw on the strength and resilience you have built up in your previous career.
Think back to 21-year-old you, and ask yourself, ‘What do I have more of now?’ Resilience gained through adversity, insight through working with different kinds of people, leadership, strategic thinking; communication; drive… You will have your own personal story about how you learned these things. It probably included trial and error, hard work, failure, reflection and improvement.
These are the things that have helped you get to where you are now. If we model these behaviours to young people, we will see these qualities grow in them.
One particular quality that you probably have in spades will also play a huge role: embracing challenge. You wouldn’t be considering career-change if you were looking for the easy option. Research by the London Business School showed that 47% of the 1,000 individuals wanted to change their careers but that many felt unable to do so. You have the experience to know that when challenges come along, you can successfully face them and learn from them.
Your experience will allow you to draw a line under a tough day, to prioritise a heavy workload or to work effectively in a team. They will contribute to your success as a trainee teacher.
As well as your personal strengths, your previous career will have resulted in other assets. People with significant career experience have networks of contacts across the industries where they’ve worked and concrete knowledge about the sector. In 2010, scientists at Columbia University found that the average size of people’s personal network was an incredible 611 people.
You also have a wealth of knowledge and may have been involved in hiring younger employees. Knowing what employers want will be of huge value as you help students think about their future prospects. You can advise on qualifications, arrange work experience placements or talks and support their extra-curricular development.
This is especially valuable for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are less likely to have role models in professional backgrounds and for challenged schools that can struggle to create effective links with business and industry.
Schools are institutions with significant budgets and a sizable workforce: your previous career means that you will have experience of how organisations work effectively and you can use this to help drive school improvement as you become more established.
However, a word of warning. Now Teachers enter their schools as trainee classroom teachers, not as consultants or troubleshooters. Your job is to learn to teach. Those who begin their first year expecting to be acknowledged as experts are nearly always disappointed. We know that your experience counts but you’ll need to understand teaching and schools before you can make a whole-school impact.
Once you have learned the skill of teaching, you will have the headspace and, very importantly, the profile in your school to contribute to things like business management. Now Teachers have taken on database management work, looked at HR functions and supported their schools in marketing and communications.
We have just recruited our third cohort but we are already starting to see the impact that career-changers can make in the education sector. Now Teachers make up a significant proportion of the growth in teachers aged 40+ joining the profession. They are using their professional skills to bring added value to schools. They are supporting each other through their training via the Now Teach network. They are inspiring other people – perhaps even you – to join them. Next year, over 27,000 students will be taught by a Now Teacher.
We exist to find talented people like you who want to bring their experience into the classroom, to help you apply and then to successfully retrain as a teacher. More than that, we want you to be a part of our network for your entire teaching career, so we can all support and challenge each other to do more and be better.
We need your desire for a challenge and your drive to make a difference. Your experience does count.