City slicker turns maths teacher


Why did you leave the City?
I was working for a large US company as a market analyst and telecoms consultant in the City of London. I’d worked for ten years in City finance and had spent the last two working from home in Durham. A new chairman was brought into the company who undertook a massive restructuring exercise. I was made redundant the week before Christmas. I was absolutely devastated.

What made you think of teaching?
I’d wanted to teach for a while but as a forty-year-old single woman, I hadn’t felt that I could afford to make transition. It would have meant giving up my job and going to college for a year while meeting financial commitments and mortgage repayments.  Certainly if I’d still been living in London, it would have been impossible. However living in Durham was a halfway house and I knew I could downsize my lifestyle. I rang up a local secondary school and asked if I could come in and watch some maths lessons. I was lucky enough to shadow a wonderful maths teacher who also lectured on the Durham University PGCE course: she convinced me I could do it!

How did you finance your study?
I had my redundancy and I also sold my four-bedroom house in Durham and moved to a semi in South Shields. I was also eligible for a £9,000 bursary for trainee teachers of shortage subjects – I had elected to teach Maths. However this also had to cover the £3,000 tuition fees. I was eligible for a further £500 grant from University of Sunderland because I didn’t have any other income. It’s worth remembering that  there are a lot of travelling expenses for  trainee teachers who may have to travellong distances to their placement schools.

How was the studying?
It was really hard to go back to studying and sitting in a classroom again. My first degree was in applied physics and electronics and I also studied for a Maths diploma with the Open University. The experience of ‘back to the classroom’ helped with my own teaching practice: I know what it’s like to be bored in a lecture – and 11 and 12 year olds don’t have the social skills to look politely bored :they will get mischievous.

What are your ‘before and after’ salaries?
I left my City job on £60,000  including bonus: my package would have been worth around £100,000 today.  As a teacher, I currently earn around £23,000. I don’t have much expendable income. One month I might be able to afford to buy a pair of new shoes, the next some new books. There are far fewer luxuries in my life.

Has teaching met your expectations?
It’s the toughest most challenging job I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve been an engineer, journalist and PR as well as a city analyst. But it’s the most rewarding job I’ve done, too, and I can’t imagine doing anything else now. You are rewarded a hundred times a day: a child smiling and saying ‘hello’, or a student making a breakthrough in their learning. I’m a form tutor too, and I get lovely moments such as a pupil saving me a cake from their food technology lesson.

What has been your highlight so far?
I was assisting in a year 8 class that was having a stats lesson and helping those students who were struggling. One small girl was nearly in tears – and I explained some theory to her again. She beamed at me and said “I get it”. Such a small phrase from a small girl, but it convinced me teaching was for me

What’s the biggest frustration?
The biggest frustration for mature teachers like myself who convert are the pay scales. I’ve brought negotiating skills from the City wheeler dealer world that I use in the classroom, plus, I’m a trained engineer. Yet I’m treated the same as a 22 year old who has just qualified!

Maureen Coulter is a maths teacher at St Hild’s Church of England Voluntary Aided School secondary school in Hartlepool.

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