‘If you can, teach’ the advertising slogan suggests and these teachers all love the profession they’ve chosen.
Think back to your school days and chances are you can remember a teacher who inspired you. Having a teacher who’s passionate about their job, despite its tough demands, makes all the difference. Helping others develop and achieve their goals can only be worthwhile and it’s clear to see how much these three teachers enjoy the work they do.
Linda Rowley, 58,
has been teaching for 37 years and has been working as a Forest Schoolteacher
in a St Neots infants school for the last three of them
I was a very shy teenager and didn’t have any burning career ambitions. But as part of my work experience, I started to help in a school. I began to realise I felt comfortable and happy in front of children and I really loved the idea of making a difference.
Now, all these years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
In my original job as a primary schoolteacher, I was always keen to encourage children’s creativity; but there were times when I felt frustrated by the constraints of the classroom. So when the chance to train as a Forest Schoolteacher arose, I grabbed it with both hands – and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I absolutely love my job. It almost feels like a privilege to help children connect with nature and look after their wellbeing, while simultaneously boosting their confidence and self-esteem. The children lead their own learning in a forest environment and they’re given the opportunity to discover their natural surroundings.
We work with all year groups in the school from Reception to Year 2 and each child gets the opportunity to attend weekly forest school sessions alongside their classroom learning.
Forest School is not curriculum based. Instead, the children experience things like den building, putting up shelters, climbing trees, cooking on a campfire and using tools - and for some children this is a first.
A recent statistic suggested that three-quarters of our children spend less time outside than inmates in prison! These kind of statistics are shocking but only go on to inspire me further to try to make a difference.
Wild spaces have been shown to reduce stress levels and we do get to see a different side to the children.
I still teach in a Year 1 class once a week but I’m always dying to get back outside. Watching the children engaged, passionate and animated is magical – it’s like being members of a special club. We had one particular child who wouldn’t join in, wouldn’t talk and just sat and observed. A few sessions in and he took himself off and climbed a tree - something he’d never done before. The pride and achievement on his face was priceless.
You continue to see little lightbulb moments as each child takes personal strides and learns skills such as perseverance, working together and problem solving – which they then bring back to the classroom. It’s amazing to see children gain the confidence to take their own risks.
No Wrong Answers
I feel so lucky, although being outside in all weathers is not for everyone! We take 15 children each session and use the same area of woodland. This way they begin to take ownership of the area and can see it change seasonally. It’s like a classroom without walls, stripped of the usual boundaries.
Coming from a rather traditional teaching background, I’ve found it hard to step back. The thing was, I was so used to planning everything in advance.
Now I have to trust the children and let them take the lead. In Forest School there are no wrong answers and no judgement, and that’s what builds confidence and empowers children.
I would advise anyone who’s passionate about getting children outdoors to consider it as a career - it’s inspiring to watch children learn in this way. Work almost feels like therapy - this really is a job that’s good for the soul!
Elizabeth Whitehead, 29,
is a Science Teacher in a Cambridgeshire secondary school. She is now in her second year of teaching
Having patience, patience and yet more patience is a necessity if you want to be a teacher, alongside being flexible and caring. I’d like to think that I can be all of these and teaching was always my first career thought.
However, after graduating, I felt too young and wanted to go off to do other things first. I had an office job for a while, but soon came back to my calling.
To ensure I was making the right decision, I got a job as a Teaching Assistant in my own secondary school. I really loved working with the students and soon realised I wanted to teach science, so took a Biology A-level in my spare time.
Two years later, I started my teacher training and, once qualified, I was lucky enough to be offered a job in the same school teaching science. I knew I’d be part of a supportive team, which made a huge difference.
For me, it’s the moment when you realise a student has really understood and just got it that I love. You can see it in their face and that really is such a fantastic highlight of the job.
I care about the students, which can make it harder when you see them making bad choices. But I think it’s so important for young people to have a teacher who sees the potential in them.
One thing I love about secondary teaching is that every hour, you have a new set of students and a new set of challenges. Every day is different and you can never predict quite how a lesson will go, however well you’ve planned it! When I worked in an office, there were parts of the job that were so monotonous - teaching is far from that!
Of course teaching isn’t without its challenges - the toughest for me is managing workload and achieving a healthy work/life balance. Now in my second year of teaching, I’ve forced myself to do this and I try where possible to keep weekends work-free.
It’s the kind of job that can monopolise every minute of every day if you let it, but that’s unsustainable.
You have to be disciplined and organised. There is always something else you can do in teaching, but it’s learning when to cut off. It’s impossible to be an effective teacher when you’re always a tired teacher.
There really are mini highlights every day. It’s as simple as when a student leaves your class and says ‘thank you, miss.’ It’s having a conversation with a student about a shared interest and watching them grow passionate about the subject.
I also run some extra-curricular clubs after school, where you watch the students begin to determine the success of their own projects – and you can sit back and smile, seeing just how proud they are of their achievements, knowing you played a small part, too.
I’m still a relatively new teacher so am always pleased when I’ve survived a Monday – and right now I just want to focus on my teaching and make sure it’s as good as it can be.
Claire Sumner, 47,
trained as a solicitor but 17 years ago had a career change and became a University Law Lecturer at the open university business school
I rather fell into a career in education. I’d considered secondary-school teaching before but my law degree wasn’t a curriculum subject and the idea of retraining really didn’t appeal.
I was working as a solicitor in a big corporate practice in London when a position to teach at law school came up. I was ready for a change but I didn’t know how I’d adjust to such a career shift. Luckily I’ve never looked back.
I remember feeling nervous the day I gave my first lecture, but I told myself that so many of my skills were transferable and I could do it. I’d had to work in court as a solicitor, which required a certain level of performance, and lecturing was more or less the same.
Almost instantly I loved the fact I no longer had to account for every minute of my day. As a solicitor, I had to bill for every six minutes of my time, which created a great deal of pressure. To be working somewhere non profit-making was refreshing, as was being able to shrug off feeling so corporate. I felt I was doing something worthwhile and could make a real difference.
I love helping people achieve their goals, especially when you get students who haven’t had the privileges others have enjoyed and didn’t think they could succeed. Yet, with support, they manage to overcome trying circumstances to fulfil their dreams. As a personal tutor, you’re responsible for supporting your students and at times have to direct them to the right support network.
I remember one particular student who had so many personal issues
you wondered if she’d make it through to the other side. She in fact graduated and went on to study as a post graduate. Knowing you’ve played
a part in that journey is very fulfilling.
I honestly don’t find that many elements of the job tough. But the most tedious part is probably the bureaucracy and admin that are part and parcel of being involved in a big institution, and at times that can be frustrating and distracting.
Many Ways In
Lecturing is an area that offers many possibilities. There are so many types of further education you can get involved in and there are many ways in.
Just don’t be put off by thinking that you have to have certain academic qualifications. You can always think of alternative ways to get some teaching experience, such as initially becoming a Research Assistant, which involves a little teaching at the same time. It’s all about trying to keep your options open.
I was 30 when I first started working with university students. Seventeen years on, I no longer get asked to join them at the pub, but I still love the energy and enthusiasm of youth.
I’m quite upbeat by nature, so I like their different attitudes. They’re not jaded and that helps keep you interested in the job.