Building Experiences

Chris Cuckson reflects on his new role as an Education Associate, and how it links to his five years in the classroom:

We’ve all read the articles and seen the statistics about the high number of teachers that leave within the first 5 years. It is unclear whether this is because of increased pressures on teachers to deliver, a sense of unachievable targets, work-life balance issues or changes to educational policy. The fact is that there is a danger that the most experienced and effective teachers are burning out and leaving. And that in turn is a disaster for the profession. Something needs to be done to shore up the talent pool, boost staff morale and address the difficulty in finding suitable candidates for head teacher positions.

A Change of Challenge

I know teachers who feel trapped: They want a change from the classroom but then fear that their high level of experience and cost will go against them should they decide to return in the future. Due to budget restrictions, schools understandably may be tempted to go down the more cost effective route of hiring NQTs to plug the gaps. On the one hand NQTs bring many advantages, such as an injection of vitality, energy and fresh ideas into the classroom, but just as important is for schools to retain more experienced staff as a school to ensure high quality teaching and learning.

It is widely recognised that teaching is one of the most demanding jobs. I feel that maintaining the energy to be an outstanding class teacher for the duration of an entire 40 year career is practically impossible. So what should be done to stem this bleed of experience and talent? Would giving more experienced teachers the option of a mid-career change or sabbatical be the option? This would give teachers the opportunity to step back and reflect, then allow them to return to the profession feeling revitalised, refreshed and full of energy. In my personal experience, this is exactly what it has done.

Changing Perspective

I decided to re-train to be a teacher after a first career in media. However, after five years of primary class teaching I felt my enthusiasm and energy reserves beginning to run dangerously low. I knew I could be an outstanding teacher, but I was beginning to cut corners, which wasn’t fair on the children, or my sense of professional pride.

After looking around I saw a position advertised in a social enterprise who provide enterprise-based learning opportunities in schools. Since starting at Enabling Enterprise in September I have been fortunate enough to gain a much wider perspective of education than I ever had before. I’ve trained teachers and helped deliver projects in many schools all across London. I now divide my week between the office, working in schools and going on trips to top London businesses which come as part of the package for schools.

Not being bogged down with endless class admin has allowed me to focus on what I really enjoyed about teaching – spending time with children and having a wider impact on their experience of learning. Instead of spending all day with the same class, I have the opportunity to influence thousands of children, and support teachers in a wide variety of school settings.

What I have learned

Although this has been a change from being a class teacher, it has definitely not been a complete step away from teaching and learning. I feel as though my teaching skills have been broadened, whilst having the added opportunity of gaining experience in areas such as marketing and developing corporate partnerships. I also have the time and space to plan more creative projects which focus on developing skills such as teamwork, resilience, problem solving, leadership and creativity, rather than feeling under pressure to churn out lessons to get through the curriculum in time for the end of year assessments.

There are a lot of exciting things going on at Enabling Enterprise, and it is great to know that I still have my foot in the door should I want to return to teaching. I feel certain that I would be a better teacher for having done this.

If the workforce of tomorrow needs to be flexible, adaptable and develop transferable skills, surely we need to pave the way and show them that this is possible. Encouraging teachers to make a career change at the right point in their career might just be what is needed to allow them to have a much needed breath of air without the worry of not being able to get back again. Many go into teaching straight from leaving university and don’t have the opportunity to experience working in the ‘real world’.

I believe that having the flexibility to develop broader experiences of life has to make more rounded teachers and informed pupils. It may seem contradictory to give teachers the option to leave as a way to retain them, but in the long-term I truly believe that this would lead to happier, more well-rounded professionals who have broadened their skills base and refreshed dedication.

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