I’ve signed up to a website where you get invited to speak about your job at schools in the area. I’ve done a few secondary school careers fairs and speed networking events, but last week I got invited to a primary school. For me, it is vital to get kids interested in or at least knowledgeable about different kinds of jobs from as early an age as possible because the stereotypes set in so early. My daughter was asked in year five what her fellow pupils wanted to be and the girls more or less to a person chose hairdresser, beauty worker or singer.
So when I got the invitation to take part in a what’s my line type of event I said yes. The idea was that there would be a number of people there from different professions and the kids would have to ask us questions to which we could answer yes or no and then they had to guess our job. We would then disappear and come back in uniform or with a prop and the kids would guess again. I realised my job has no interesting props. My son once described my job as “staring at the computer” [and occasionally shouting at it]. I opted for a notepad full of shorthand [I am very old] and a newspaper.
When I got to the school there were three other people ready to talk about their jobs – a pilot, a dentist and an engineering consultant. The pilot and dentist had, as you can imagine, some cool props. The teacher who had organised the event told us that a lot of the kids’ parents didn’t work and that they therefore had little close personal experience of jobs, which made sessions like this all the more important.
We marched into the school hall holding numbers. I was number two. One of the first questions was “do you work on a plane”. The pilot smiled. The dentist and I said no. The engineering consultant said yes. “Did you go to university?” All of us said yes, except the pilot. “Do you work with animals?” Everyone said no, except the engineering consultant. She was going to be a hard one to guess. The first suggestions were fairly accurate for the pilot and the dentist [they guessed doctor or nurse]. I got artist and “office worker”. The engineering consultant got vet and stewardess. We trooped off to get our props and came back. The pilot had epaulettes and a hi-vis jacket; the dentist was in a mask and tunic. I stood there with my notebook and newspaper and the engineering consultant brandished her ipad. She got “app creator”. I got accountant, but also writer.
We revealed our jobs and were divided into groups to take more questions about what we did. Some of the children didn’t know what a journalist was. They were fascinated by shorthand, though. I tried to make it sound more exciting by describing it as a secret code. Had I interviewed anyone famous? My mind went blank and all I could think about was government ministers, human rights activists and academics who they had probably never heard of. My flatmate interviewed Kylie, I volunteered, though they may not have heard of her either. One of my friends is a football reporter and has interviewed all the big names. My partner has always been slightly disappointed that I’ve never managed to work an interview with Depeche Mode into the health/education news agenda.
I was asked how much I earn, what my best story was and how I write an article. I emphasised the importance of accuracy and checking sources. I perhaps overemphasised this, given that a lot of the press is full of bias and bile, but I wanted to give a good picture of my profession. It needs people to go into it for the right reasons.
I’m not sure what the kids made of it all and whether they will remember any of it. It would be good to do more – maybe writing workshops or the like. Primary school is definitely where it needs to start as much as possible before the inequality gap turns into a chasm.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.