Transitioning to teaching in STEM

Dr Jamie Curley and Dr Anne Cook both switched recently to teaching after years of working in industry.

Jamie Curley used his expereince as an Army Cadet Force volunteer to become a teacher


If you have ever considered switching careers later in life, and have wondered about teaching, here are some case studies of people who have worked in industry and then switched to teaching in STEM later in life.

Switching to teaching in your 50s

Dr Jamie Curley [pictured] was 53 when he realised the job he was doing just didn’t fulfill him any more and he wanted to do something different.

He says: “I was sitting at another sales conference at another anonymous hotel watching someone go through another set of sales figures when I thought to myself ‘is this really my life?’ I was involved in the sales and clinical support side of the business, but I got to the point where I didn’t think it was worthwhile anymore, the salary and bonuses were no longer enough. It was time to do something else.”

So Jamie, now 55 and with a degree in biology and a doctorate in engineering, decided to switch careers and become a teacher. He trained through the Department for Education-funded Transition to Teach initiative and started his newly qualified teacher [NQT] year last September.

Transition to Teach is looking to recruit more teachers in STEM subjects, such as physics, maths and chemistry, where there are often shortages. The programme supports those at risk of redundancy, early retirees and eligible career changers into teaching in STEM, with 69% of Transition to Teach participants in 2020 training to teach a STEM subject such as science, maths or computer science, up from 37% in 2019.  The programme supports both teachers’ training and their first NQT year.

Jamie, from Rochdale, says his first two questions to Transition to Teach were: ‘am I too old’ and ‘is it too late to apply to teach this year’. They said no on both counts. Six weeks later he was on the PGCE course at Manchester Metropolitan University.

He says he has never looked back: “I think self-confidence really helps as a teacher and all of the presentations I had to make in my old job really helped with that side of things. The wider world perspective is also key. If you can make what you’re teaching relevant to your students and relate it to the real world, then you’re more likely to engage them.”

He adds: “I say to people that teaching isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. The lessons are part of it, but only part of it, there’s also the pastoral side. It sounds corny, but the best thing about teaching is knowing that I’m making a difference. When it goes wrong in a young person’s life it can take a lifetime to put it right. If you want to create the right society, it starts with education.”

Industry and life experience

Another person who has made the change is Dr Anne Cook from Cumbria who has a PhD in material sciences. She  worked in ship building, steel making and railways before moving into the nuclear sector.

She says: “As a woman who has worked in the science sector, I am particularly interested in the gender gap and how women are encouraged, or not, into science. Thirty-five years since doing my A Levels, it’s amazing that this is still as much of an issue now as it was then.

“In largely male dominated environments throughout my working life so far, I have certainly been one of the few women working on the shop floor.  As a teacher, I want to take my experience in the science industry to encourage all pupils, but particularly to remove some of the barriers that girls may feel towards science, sparking their interest in the subject and encouraging it.”

Cristina is 52 and says she thinks her previous work experience will help children to understand to understand how science can be used in their future life and what their career prospects are.

She adds: “As an older teacher, I have the benefit of life experience. Being able to read people and develop relationships will help me in the classroom. At this stage in my life, it’s important to make a difference in my career, and that’s what I hope to do as a teacher.”

Rebecca Waring, programme manager for the Transition to Teach project, says: “Our STEM participants bring a wealth of workplace experience, educational attainment and transferable skills into teaching. To have a teacher in front of you who has worked in the STEM sector, who can break down barriers that children might feel towards STEM, showcase their technical skills and ability, and make it relatable, is incredibly powerful.”

Applications are now open for September 2021 and the programme can offer participants support at every stage in their journey, from practical things like finding an ITT provider and identifying funding sources, to providing access to a guidance and development adviser who will offer support until the end of their first year as a newly qualified teacher.”

*If you are interested in applying, especially if you are interested in teaching in STEM subjects, find out more about Transition to Teach here.

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