We all know that January is the time of year when we all re-assess our lives and even possibly make the bold decision to jump into a new career. But could teaching be the answer for the many who aspire to something more fulfilling?
According to the national Get into Teaching campaign, last January saw 14,000 out of 21,000 registrations of interest in teaching from career changers in other fields indicating that many people are looking to take their transferable skills into the classroom as they seek more job satisfaction.
Bedfordshire research scientist turned chemistry teacher, Dr. Corinne Kay, tells us about her journey from the pharmaceutical industry to the classroom, and the challenges she faced transitioning into a new way of life.
What made you decide to switch to teaching?
I thoroughly enjoyed my career in medicinal chemistry research at GlaxoSmithKline but had always wanted to be a teacher as I felt that I would be well suited to it since I love to explain complex things in simple ways.
I was 49 when my daughter was taking her GCSEs. She was struggling with some of her classes so I stepped in and started doing revision sessions with her.
Before long her friends were joining the sessions and my home slowly became a makeshift classroom.
Many of them commented that they wished I was their teacher, and this is what really inspired me to take the plunge. My 50th birthday was the time I thought to myself it’s now or never!
How did you go about it?
My route into teaching was via Get into Teaching and Premier Plus – a free service for certain priority subjects that provides additional support when preparing and applying for teacher training.
When I began completing my UCAS application, I received a call from my own dedicated adviser who knew the teacher training process inside out.
I can genuinely say that I wouldn’t have completed my application without my Premier Plus adviser. She was once a qualified teacher, so she knew the system very well and understood how it felt to be on the ‘other side’.
How did that switch to teaching feel initially and what do you enjoy about it now?
It wasn’t exactly the same as I had previously imagined. Dealing with challenging and disruptive pupils can be intimidating, but you learn how to tackle these situations.
Ultimately, it’s great being in a position where I can empower pupils and give them the guidance and tools they need to become productive self-learners and achieve things they believe are beyond them.
In terms of teaching chemistry, I find the subject fascinating and enjoy making abstract concepts accessible to pupils as science explains the world around them. I want to inspire pupils to go to university and become brilliant scientists.
What challenges did you face starting at the bottom after a successful career in science?
I have been in senior management positions throughout my research career but I didn’t find the role completely fulfilling.
Having a title doesn’t motivate me, making a real difference does, so I’m happy to concentrate on becoming a really great teacher in the classroom and honing those skills whilst helping others.
As a result, I didn’t find it particularly difficult being managed by people who were younger and less experienced in their working lives. I saw this as an opportunity to learn from my new colleagues and become the best teacher I could be.
Do you think you brought any particular qualities to teaching, as someone who’d spent many years in the workplace?
I was a research scientist at GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage and this gave me applied knowledge of many of the topics I currently teach, which has been very useful for contextualising lessons.
This, alongside my natural ability to teach, meant I was able to bring a wealth of knowledge to my new role. I would also like to think that my old life as a senior research scientist is something that inspires my students and illustrates what they could potentially achieve themselves.
What would you say to other people interested in a new career and possibly exploring teaching?
I would say that it’s never too late to consider a career change and there are certainly no age limits to doing so.
Transitioning into a new role and industry can be daunting but you should consider the transferable skills you already have which are likely to be extremely valuable, whether that’s your subject knowledge or your interpersonal and people skills.
For those interested in teaching, I would say do it, but try it first! It’s always helpful to gain experience working with young people if you’ve never done this before.
Getting some prior classroom experience helps decide if this career is for you. Anyone looking for more information about getting into teaching should definitely visit the Get into Teaching website to find out more.
You could get a £25,000 tax-free bursary to train as a teacher in selected subjects which might help those changing from one career to another.