NOTE ADDED 18.03.14
“I should like to point out that this was my own reflection on my own poor attitude and lack of appreciation for the need to address ‘the office’ in a very different way to that in the corporate world. It was advice and reflection as a career changer to embrace the things you have come to take for granted, to be enthusiastic about things which ceased to hold awe for you long ago. This post was my own tongue in cheek note to self and to anyone like me who I know reads my blog to not take complacency from one role into another.
It was not an affront on my experience in my placement, it was not an attack on anyone, it drew comparison between the excitement of being young and being in your first professional post and being older and in your umpteenth professional post.
It was also written on the back of a PGCE lesson in which it was raised that a trainee who endears him/herself to the team is more highly valued than the trainee who moves mountains in the classroom, something I challenged at the time in class, something I expressed my concerns about and something which seemed ludicrous. I thought about it on the way home, there is never time in a class to get involved in lengthy discussion and I’m a reflector, a thinker, so it was on my mind. This was how I off loaded those feelings and made sense of them.
This was not written about my experience as a trainee on placement, it was not written after a placement day, it was purely my own advice to be open minded when career changing… unlike I had been. This post was misconstrued and inaccurately and out of context shared with others instead of being challenged on the blog (the whole purpose of an online discussion media. Several people (older career changers) empathised with this post and its content and a number of private messages were received discussing it and sharing similar experiences when transitioning from one profession to another. No offence was intended to anyone and the only person berated for anything in this post is myself, I can admit when I made a mistake and that was the crux of this post. The style of writing was to mimic my own self chastisement and nothing else.”
There was something I didn’t realise, something I didn’t anticipate, something I now see that has been a problem and so something I want to share on my blog just in case anyone reading it is thinking of a mid-life career change into teaching.
The majority of teachers who will be trainees at the same time as you, either on PGCE courses (a route I’d obviously highly recommend bar the expense) or other routes, particularly Teach First are either young people about to start in their first professional position OR older people who have switched via retraining from years of unskilled work to a professional path. Then there are few like yourself, myself, who have switched from one professional path to another.
Now, one of the things which your mentors will be looking for on your placement is enthusiasm. That’s taken as read. But it’s not enthusiasm for the job of teaching that they are looking for, something which you have in abundance. Oh no, it’s enthusiasm for the trappings of being a teacher. It’s important to be a part of the teaching team, of course it is. No matter how temporary your role there is. However, if you have spent the best part of the last twenty years as part of a professional team you are already aware of the way you play these things, you have office environments sussed, you have developed strategies to cope and to remain outside of cliques and above gossip, you are aware of the hierarchy, you know how irritating trainees can sometimes be, you’re aware of office politics, you’re aware of pecking orders and office bitching and all of that stuff that you know detracts from the job. You avoid staff rooms for breaks as you know you will not get a break, you will pick up more work, people will talk to you about work, you will end up spending your break problem solving and meeting planning.
Forget all of those tactics and avoidance techniques and act as if you have never been in a professional environment before in your life, flap around like an excited teenager, fill yourself with your own importance, puff out your chest, wear your staff badge with pride and indulge your mentor in your excitement at your new-found professional status and your absolute glee at being trusted with all of the status symbol trappings of professionalism.
I’m talking keys to doors, access to staff rooms, your own mug, the responsibility of answering a phone, the staff log in, the access all areas staff passwords and all of that. Show your delight externally even though you have long since felt that those things were standard and symbols of nothing more than working in an office environment, even though those things ceased to excite you 20 years ago, even though those things mean zero to you in terms of your ability or commitment to your job.
You might feel that this is all a step backwards for you and you might feel a little uncomfortable, being 40 or 50 and the new kid on the block but then you knew it was going to be different, you knew the trappings of the corporate world had been left behind and it is the classroom that interests you. The classroom is your place of work, that is your new office, that is where you can make a difference, the staff room is just somewhere to touch base. You know that you are not here for the professional status symbols, you made a conscious decision to leave those all behind. You are here because you want to pass on your knowledge you want to teach, you want to inspire and motivate and make a difference, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you wholeheartedly throw yourself with gusto into the team and embrace with pronounced joy the things you had erstwhile taken for granted.
If you don’t you are not seen as being as interested or as bothered as a ‘regular trainee’, someone for whom this whole foray into professionalism is a first, the key, the cup, the login, the chair, the desk, the books, the pens, the powerpoint clicker – love it all or you will be seen as unenthusiastic.
It’s something I never envisaged or even thought about but it’s important. Erase your memory and start again, don’t take the avoidance of the staff room which you’re practiced for 20 odd years into your teaching career, embrace it as part and parcel of being one of them and of being a huge indicator arguably the most significant indicator in determining both your enthusiasm as a teacher and your worth as a teacher. The classroom is not the most important place of work, the staff room is. It’s a huge change and something that can easily be overlooked.
We live and learn and I’m glad we do, if I ever thought there was nothing left to learn I’d know I still had a lot to learn.