Schoolzone: Time for a change

Time for a change?

By Sheila Roberts

Whether they have been teaching since the dawn of time, or come in as Chris Woodhead was on his way out, from time to time every teacher questions the direction their career is taking. A bad day/week/term/year may prompt self reflection but less frequently result in action. What causes apathy among so many unfulfilled or unhappy teachers? Is acceptance easier? How many confront the prospect of change?

What else could I do?
Change comes in various guises and sizes and may not lead to drastic action such as leaving the profession. For some people a slight career tweek, a minor change here or there, could restore a feeling of satisfaction and well-being. For others a more radical approach is appropriate. Too often teacher apathy is bogged down in the rhetorical question: "but what else could I do?"

There is always an alternative, but is it worth it? No decision can be made in isolation and is linked to individual circumstances and personality. Do we too readily accept the barriers to change without questioning their substance? Moving or shaking relates to two things: motivation and values. If the desire for change is there, then you can begin to explore the what and the how, beginning with a personal and career check-up.

Transferable skills
Good teachers instil in their pupils the "can do"attitude, but can fail miserably when it comes to themselves. Lack of vision leads many to believe all they can do is teach, without recognising the transferable skills they possess. Consider the range of skills generic to the professional, subject specific and interpersonal, which you demonstrate daily, plus the not-to-be- forgotten Key Skills. Talented teachers are excellent communicators, organisers, administrators and managers; they have experience with a wide variety of people, and are tolerant, inspiring and imaginative.

Why then do so many lack the self confidence to branch out? Could some blame be attributed to the deficiencies of the profession's personal support structures, which are entangled in appraisal and performance review? Teachers need a safe forum where they can identify their achievements and plan their personal and career progression. Some have the necessary career management skills to do this independently, while others need external guidance and support.

The first step for both is to undertake an honest appraisal of the current situation in terms of needs, feelings and ambitions. The second is to determine how much change is manageable.

Career steers
You are unsettled but still like teaching:

  • Change school/college.
  • Seek promotion.
  • Make sideways move.
  • Shed responsibilities.
  • Go part-time.
  • Develop areas of interest to provide new stimulation.
  • Go on a course.
  • Refocus on out-of-school life.
  • Apply for a sabbatical.
  • Resign and register as a supply teacher - give yourself space to explore other things without gambling everything.
  • Check out other careers in education, even if only to confirm that teaching is still your best option.

Not sure about teaching for ever:

  • Balance the pros and cons of teaching and consider compromises you would be prepared to make, eg money, holidays, retraining, location.
  • Browse the vacancies pages more broadly and surf the net for education-related jobs to get a feel for the ever changing labour market.
  • Explore how others have developed their career profiles and network to find out about opportunities.
  • Ideas for education related occupations: secondment to education project, exam board officer, assessor, bursar, research/data manager, Connexions personal adviser, OfSTED inspector, LEA adviser, education officer (eg TV channel, museum), writer of teaching materials, organiser/agent/rep for school travel company, education journalist, editor for educational publisher, lecturer in education, freelance consultant, community project worker

Want a complete change:

  • Identify your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, in work and personal life.
  • List the key criteria for "the ideal job"/ lifestyle.
  • Consider employed versus self-employed status. How entrepreneurial are you?
  • Have you an interest you could turn into a means of earning a living?
  • Would/could you retrain?

Achievements of former teachers: run a bed and breakfast, started a catering business, retrained as a lawyer, run an inner city community centre, ski clothing sales rep, trained as a psychotherapist, established a cycle sales and repair business, sold insurance, joined marketing department of an exam board...

That's all very well but
Change is hard and the more established one is in a profession the harder it can be as there is more at stake, not least financial. External factors may impose change, eg redundancy, divorce, partner relocation, but for many teachers it is a case of being alert to the dangers of career coasting and proactive to avoid career incarceration.

Some helpful homilies:

  • Life is too short to make do
  • Money isn't everything:
  • Health and happiness count for more
  • You have lots of skills to sell
  • Explore widely and speculate to accumulate
  • Seek guidance to share and expand your thinking
  • There is always an alternative!

The author is an education consultant working in the areas of curriculum development and career planning.


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