from lawyer to Now Teach trainee
Study path with Now Teach: Secondary school teacher, Maths
Training period: September 2017 – July 2019
Where: Bolingbroke Academy, Clapham, London
Previous careers: Lawyer then hedge consultant
Prior to arriving in the UK from the US in 2004, I enjoyed a rewarding (first) career as an attorney in the US for nearly 10 years. Seeking a new challenge, I came to the UK to attend Oxford University’s Said Business School; and after receiving my MBA, I embarked on my second career as a hedge consultant and derivatives trader for an independently owned company. We advised private equity firms on mitigating foreign currency and interest rate risk. I worked there for ten years and then found myself in a transition period wondering whether I should stay in the financial industry for another ten years before ’rounding – out’ my professional life by becoming a teacher when I turned 55 or so. At about this time, Lucy Kellaway’s article came out and answered my questions for me, ending my very short lived sabbatical!
What Lucy said resonated with my passion to give something back to the community. It made me wonder why I should wait another ten years in my current profession – other than for financial reasons. Now Teach has been set up as a charity to recruit like-minded individuals and that’s what attracted me to it above other training providers.
When I attended the first meeting I was struck by the way they recognised how difficult it is to train as a teacher in general but also to re-train as a teacher having enjoyed success in other careers.
Now Teach offers us career changers invaluable support – from coordinating social media groups connecting us to one another, to arranging periodic meet-ups on Thursday afternoons to hear some great speakers.
The school I teach at in Clapham, South London is a comprehensive non-selective secondary school that is part of an Academy chain. It has a very broad mix of pupils from every socio-economic background with a wide range of ethnicities represented. But like children everywhere, they have more in common going through secondary school together than they have differences.
Back in September 2017 after some initial training over the summer months, I “went live” as it were and stood in front of classrooms teaching pupils from 11 to 16 years of age. The training prepared me well for the start, but even still it often felt like an out of body experience and in a blink of an eye, the bell rings. Lesson 1 – done, Day 1 – done, Week 1 – done. . . onto Week 2 of term and so on.
I must admit the confluence of the first term of the school year and the short (dark) days of Autumn does not help but before you knew it, Autumn term was over and it was our Christmas break, enough time to rejuvenate and come back for Spring term.
Call it blind faith, but
I believed back in September that I could do this “teaching thing” and learn and improve as I’ve done in my past professional lives, but now I know I can do this – and that’s the difference.
I think it’s about my growing confidence in my own ability. Sure it’s a new and challenging career, but grit and determination are transferable skills after all.
I think it was my ability to pick myself up and dust myself off that led me to the idea of holding maths support sessions after school twice a week. I had many days when lessons hadn’t gone to plan with pupils behaving like…well, the teenagers that they are. So I needed a plan to combat those dips. It was then that I decided to make myself available right after the school bell from 4-5pm and “encourage” pupils to come for extra support.
Initially, those who came were those who were already in detention and preferred to do maths to pass that time instead. Then slowly more pupils came voluntarily without detention. Even if only one pupil gets some help in one of those sessions, then it was worthwhile. They know I’m doing this in my own time because I care and hopefully, that makes a difference to their day as well as mine.
I consider myself blessed to be able to start seeing some of this bear fruit with some of the most reluctant learners making progress and feeling pride in themselves for what they’ve achieved.
Pupils who try to come across as tough as nails on the exterior when you first meet them will come up to me now, only eight short months later and say, ‘Sir, did I have a good lesson?’ They want you to see that they’re working. You know that you’ve chipped away at the ‘I hate maths, I hate you’ teenager and discovered the child eager to learn if believed in and given the right tools and support.
If it’s not already clear, I am absolutely loving it!
The bonus is when I see those ‘Ah ha’ moments and the penny dropping. Pupils do switch on and begin to grow in confidence and feel they can learn maths. That’s amazing.
I have one class which can get off-task rather easily but at the end of a recent lesson, I told them to pack up and stand behind their chairs. They were surprised ‘Is that it, Sir? Are we done? ‘, because they were so engaged and learning, they hadn’t realised the time. It was one of those ‘See what happens when you’re having fun in maths?’ moments – great!
The penny will eventually drop for all pupils and I’m glad to be a part of a profession, a school and a team that are creating those ripples of positivity and possibilities.