From risk management to Now Teach trainee
Where: Ark Walworth Academy
I’m one of these people with what you’d call a ‘portfolio career’. I came into teaching from running my own business, which was a risk management consultancy, and before that I worked for a large consultancy in southern Africa. After graduating from university I joined the military and spent ten years in the Royal Marines in various capacities, including as a helicopter pilot. I also did an MBA and I have a Masters in Finance so my career has been a pretty mixed bag! I had a successful career and I was half-enjoying what I was doing, but I’d been doing it for a long time. I wanted to do something different. I’d never thought about going into teaching before but then I read about Now Teach in a FT article. That kicked it all off for me.
I went into teaching to give something back.
The new kid in school
How does flying a helicopter compare to teaching pupils? When you join an elite military unit like the Royal Marines you’re in your early 20s. You’re all set for big changes and stresses and that’s what you relish. Your body is ready for it. It’s not necessarily out of your comfort zone: you suck it up and deal with it. The first year of teaching for me, even though the work levels were much lower, felt completely out of my comfort zone. I think this is something all the trainee teachers talked about: just feeling utterly powerless in front of thirty disruptive 13 and 14 year old kids who don’t want to be in a science lesson and don’t know who you are and they really don’t care.
Everything you’ve ever learnt about how structures work don’t work when you’re a new teacher at school. It’s the strangest thing. You don’t really come with any authority even though the school structure tells you that you do. You have to establish that authority and a relationship with the pupils. For the Now Teach crowd that was the biggest thing for all of us: just how impotent you feel in front of that class, even if that school has a great discipline system. To have that support network was great because we were all highly emotional about it. Particularly for the captains of industry and the senior people coming from twenty-five years of doing something well and then all of a sudden you’re thrown in the deep end! Just being able to share that with your peers was fantastic but at the end of the day, you did have to deal with it yourself. It’s quite a unique situation to be in.
You know you’re making a difference to somebody’s life.
Making a difference
Last year there was a programme in school that matched teachers to troubled pupils, in a sort of mentoring capacity. It was for Year 11 pupils who were struggling or who could do better, or who had issues of some kind. We’d take them to lunch and call their parents and keep track of them and how they were doing. I had a lad who had been doing really well but just went off the rails, for all sorts of reasons. I did what I can and we had a good relationship but I wasn’t sure if it was helping, or if it was too late. I was away on his last day in school and he wrote me this absolutely beautiful note about how much I’d helped him. I broke down, it was really emotional. I teach physics so I like doing the whole mad scientist thing and introducing kids to science. I get nice little notes from them about how much they enjoyed the class and some of the comments are just brilliant, but that was a standout moment for me.
Being a positive role model
The greatest value I get from teaching is the giving back. I do feel that I make a difference every day to pupils who are desperate to have people make that difference to them. You know that quite often, you’re probably the most consistent person in that young person’s life. I’m a role model. I’m mixed race and 80% of the people at Walworth are ethnic minorities. They’re looking for people who look like them and can tell a similar story to them who have been successful. They can grab onto that. And I make no bones about it, I am strict. Kids need to have boundaries and they like having them, although they will push them!