From the boardroom to the classroom

What was your job title before you entered teaching?
I was a managing director in Bear Stearns Corporate Finance.  Along with many others, I was made redundant in 2003.  Fortunately, I’d made enough to not worry too much about my financial future and had already paid off my mortgage, so that widened my work options.

What made you choose teaching?
When I worked in corporate finance I used to leave home at 6.45am and return at 9.30pm.  I had three young children at the time, so the only time I saw them was at the weekends.  I wanted to spend more time with my family, and was happy to accept a lower income to enable this to happen.  The idea of working in a people-centered job with a great academic challenge and a supportive working environment really appealed.  I looked forward to doing a worthwhile and rewarding job. 

What was it like being a student again? 
I always enjoyed school so I loved being a student again.  I enjoyed the challenge of using my brain again.  Rather than complete the PGCE where you get £6-9k while studying, I opted for the Graduate Training Programme, an on-the-job training programme, and earned over £20k while I qualified.  You learn on your feet in the classroom, but it does require a certain confidence, otherwise the students will make mincemeat of you.

What were the most useful skills you brought from your previous role?
Organisation, time management, presentation, listening and negotiation skills were the main ones.   I was used to selling myself and spent a lot of time in meetings where I had to pitch to clients.  When you’re dealing with a class of rowdy teenagers, these presentation and influencing skills come in handy. 

What adjustments did you need to make when you changed career?
There are a lot of benefits associated with investment banking such as the pay, staying in plush hotels when on business trips, and high status within the company.  In contrast, I started out on the bottom rung as a new teacher, having to cope with a lower salary and lack of respect from some of the kids.

How does teaching compare to your previous career?
As an investment banker I lived with continual stress and pressure to perform, often in fear of redundancy.  Now I look forward to going into work each day – it is a far more supportive and rewarding environment where people matter more than money. I now have far more daily involvement with teachers and students and people generally; each day is different so it’s less predictable than investment banking, and far more rewarding. 

What do you most enjoy about teaching?
It has to be walking out of the classroom at the end of an interesting lesson that has been stimulating and fun.  Despite tough first years, I am hugely satisfied with my work and relish the support from my colleagues.

What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
Becoming head of year and discovering that I am good at pastoral care.

What are the difficulties and how do you overcome them?
Bad behaviour but I realise that a lot of the children who display these problems have a lot of emotional baggage. I try to be consistent, fair and I never give up on them.

What are your plans for the future?
I love being in the classroom and simply want to continue teaching.  I have no interest in promotion if it will take me out of the classroom.

What advice would you give to those considering a career change to teaching?
Go into a school, talk to teachers and test it out for yourself.  Teaching is tough and you need to be committed if you are to make it through the first couple of years, which are the most difficult.

Any other comment
No regrets so far!

Kevin Watson is head of year at Watford Grammar school for boys.

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