Emma Mahony trained as a teacher after many years in journalism through an innovative programme for older professionals.
Emma Mahony was sitting listening to the radio one day three years ago when she heard the co-founder of teacher recruitment company Now Teach talking about wanting to take on mid-life career changers. “It was like I had been hit over the head with a frying pan,” says Emma. “The idea of training with a cohort of other middle-aged professionals really inspired me, the idea that I would not just be ploughing my own furrow and would have their support and share the experience with them.”
Having completed the training in September and started teaching Spanish and French as a secondary school in East Sussex, she says this has indeed been the case. “It’s one of the best things about Now Teach,” she states. The 47 people in her cohort – the first for Now Teach, which was highly commended for its innovative approach at the 2019 workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards – were aged 44 to 64; most, like her, were parents; and they had come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds.
Emma had been a journalist for many years and had gone freelance from her job as a commissioning editor at The Times after having twins 18 years ago. After around 10 years, though, the twins and her older son were more independent and she found the isolation of working from home too much. “I wanted a more collegiate atmosphere. I thought about going back to journalism, but it had changed a lot and I had done it for a long time,” she says.
Emma got in touch with Now Teach after hearing the radio programme and found that they were looking in particular for teachers in STEM subjects and modern foreign languages. She had done a degree in French and Russian. “I had what they wanted and in return I could give something back and do something that was really needed. That was very attractive,” she says.
Emma chose to do a PGCE rather than training on the job at one of the specialist Arc schools Now Teach works with because she thought she needed more support and because she doesn’t live in London where most Arc schools are based. She trained at Brighton University and did 120 days of teaching practice at two contrasting schools. In addition she had to do a GCSE in Spanish.
She was given a mentor and gradually built up her teaching skills, but admits it was hard at first. She had a very critical mentor at her first school, but stuck it out, determined to keep going and she gradually improved. “It’s like driving. You get better the more you do it,” she says.
Emma adds that doing the training was a big leveller – it didn’t matter how senior people had been in their previous jobs, anyone could struggle. “We were all in it together,” she says. The cohort still meet up on a monthly basis to listen to guest speakers and chat.
Emma adds that she has been able to bring her perspective from journalism to teaching. She uses newspaper extracts in some lessons and when asked what the point of learning languages is can point out how doing Russian and French has helped honed her ability to use language and to communicate. Having had another career also piques the students’ interest.
Emma is determined to get children to enjoy languages and loves the creative elements of the job, such as creating a rap to remember the present tense of common Spanish verbs.
She says the workload is probably no more stressful than the jobs most of the cohort had come from and feels that mid-career starters may be more aware of the need for self care as a result of their experiences in different workplaces.
“You take the experience from your other job into teaching and know you have to put yourself first,”says Emma who works four days a week.
The ability to work flexibly in teaching is something Now Teach campaigns about. For Emma it means she can have her weekends free and doesn’t have to devote a Sunday to planning. She says the four-day week pattern suits her school too.
Emma is taking a short break until half term to finish a memoir she started in 2017 on being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. The diagnosis came after her son was assessed for the condition.
“It was like a lightbulb going off. Things began to make sense. In fact it was one of the reasons I went into teaching as I found school challenging. I wanted to go back with the knowledge I have now and support other kids with ADHD who are finding it challenging at school,” says Emma.
She’s very glad she made the decision to switch professions. “I love teaching,” she adds. “It’s still very challenging, but I know I just need to put in the hours in the classroom to get better. For me it is really important to do something meaningful. I know that when I finish each day I have really achieved something. I didn’t always have that with journalism, but I have it every day with teaching.”