Switching to teaching

Many people underestimate the salary and career prospects of teachers, according to a survey conducted recently for the Training and Development Agency for Schools. Nicola Pennington is not one of them. She tells www.workingmums.co.uk why she chose to go into teaching.

Many people underestimate the salary and career prospects of teachers, according to a survey conducted recently for the Training and Development Agency for Schools.
When the general public was asked to rank professions by opportunities for career progression, teaching came towards the bottom (beating only journalism and careers in human resources) whereas 81 per cent of teachers say they feel there are plenty of opportunities to progress and nearly half of those under the age of 29 aspire to be head teachers.
Over 80 per cent of final year students also underestimate the starting salary of a teacher, some believing it to be under half the actual wage, which at £26,000 in London, is considerably higher than the national average wage.
The TDA says such misperceptions are discouraging people from choosing teaching as a career.
Nicola Pennington is not one of these people, although she says that neither salary nor career progression were motivating factors in her becoming a teacher. She decided to change careers because her sister, a headteacher at a primary school, was the only person she knew who loved her job.
She had an idea of the career prospects in teaching and a ballpark figure for the salary, although she says she was surprised how much a newly qualified teacher earns. “It’s £21,000 which is more than I earned in my first job as a designer,” she says.
Nicola, who lives in Cumbria, wanted a job which could fit around her son [the chance for school holidays was a draw, for instance], which was worthwhile and which took her out of the house but was not a desk job. She had spent seven years as a textile designer before her company was closed while she was on maternity leave with her first child. She then set up her own designer wedding stationery company, but found that working on her own at home wasn’t for her.
“I came to the business accidentally,” she says. “I had been making cards for friends and someone asked me to do their wedding stationery. I realised I could make money doing that and the hours were really flexible. I could work while the baby was in the cot. It all grew quite quickly and once my son was at school I was at home making hundreds of cards, but I hated being on my own at home.”
She looked around for something else to do, but there were no textile businesses near home. Due to her sister’s enthusiasm, teaching seemed a good option to her and she loved the “team spirit” of working with the whole early years team and in collaboration with parents.
She got a place on a locally based course and is now just about to finish her PGCE training, teaching primary school children. She has worked in three schools since starting her training and hopes she has established a reputation which will help her get her first job. She has been specialising in teaching early years and says she is “mad about children”. “I have become more and more interested in them as I watch my own son develop,” she says. “Teaching never would have entered my head before he was born.”
Her son is now aged six and goes to a breakfast club in the morning. Last July, Nicola’s mother-in-law retired and she helps out a lot. “She takes him to after school club, gives him his tea and I pick him up around 6pm and then spend time playing with him,” says Nicola. “There’s not a lot of time this year as there are all the assignments to do on top of teaching. I couldn’t have done it without my mother-in-law – she even does the ironing.”
Nicola’s mother lives in Leeds and they have had her son during the holidays when she still has assignments to do. She admits the job can be demanding and, as a trainee, she is monitored quite carefully. She says she used to love her sleep and go to bed at 9pm, but now she stays up till midnight doing lesson plans. She hopes it will get a little easier as she gets more used to the job.
Her college, which was set up to get local people trained as teachers, is about eight miles from her house. It is attached to Cumbria University and she has had a couple of lectures there. Although most of the students are younger, Nicola says there are a few older trainees, most of them juggling training and children, so there is quite a bit of support.
“It is a bit bizarre to start a new career at 37,” she says, “when I spent six years at college doing design, which I loved.”
However, she uses some of her design skills and has been teaching the children at her school weaving, for instance. She says she can’t wait to have her own class so she can really get to work on classroom displays.
* The TDA has launched a major recruitment drive across the country with its Train to Teach events to search for new teaching talent and to counter the misconceptions around careers in teaching. The next event is on 19th and 20th March at the Thinktank at Birmingham Science Museum.

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