Dear John: will time out in the third sector prevent a return to teaching?

Q

I gained QTS and did my induction on the Teach First programme. I taught secondary geography in London. I got on well at my school and was awarded a TLR in my second year. When I finished my induction in July, I came to Brussels to join my partner who is Belgian and is working in Brussels. I was unable to find teaching work and took an administrative job in a European NGO. I had a prior interest in this area and have done well in the organisation and been offered an opportunity to take on additional and more challenging work in communications. My boss has now offered me the opportunity to take on a maternity cover as the organisation’s communications officer in September, with the possibility of running another project afterwards. This is an exciting and interesting opportunity for me.

I loved teaching, and was good at it. I have missed it since July. I would like to go back and become a head of department in the future. In fact, before the current opportunity was offered here in Brussels, I’d started applying for jobs in London with a September start. I’d had one interview and, although I didn’t get the job, the feedback was very positive. My partner’s job is going really well in Brussels and getting a job in London looks tough for him in the current climate.

How badly do you think staying in Brussels and working in the third sector for a bit longer (perhaps until Feb or Sep 2010) would hurt my chances of getting geography teaching positions in the future? I’d enjoy the challenge of the opportunity on offer and it would give my partner a bit longer to prepare for a move but I’m scared of closing the door on teaching. The increase in applicants for teacher training clearly makes the decision to take time out riskier than ever. Would heads see broader experience as an advantage or a disadvantage?
If I were to stay, would you recommend looking at ‘return to teaching’ courses after a 1-2 year gap? How would you recommend keeping my teaching skills up-to-date in the mean time?

A

You are obviously a talented individual as otherwise you wouldn’t have been offered a place on the Teach First Scheme, a TLR in geography and now these opportunities in Brussels. For the sake of your home life, and that matters as well, I would take the opportunity in Brussels and enjoy life together with your partner without having to worry about Eurostar timetables or flight delays. You then have two career choices when you return to the UK, teaching or communications or possibly one that combines the two. Yes, finding a teaching post will be challenging in a couple of years’ time, but who knows what the future will bring by then. Keep up your membership of the GA, attend what conferences and courses you can fly back for, and read the TES. Eventually, any course, such as a return to teaching course, will help with intelligence about the local market for teachers, but probably won’t help with skills development.

Using your communications skills and the internet to develop resources for schools that you can upload to the resources part of the TES Connect web site might be a more valuable use of you time and experience. You have the whole gamut of the geography of war to start with that might be useful to geography, history and humanities teachers. You could, for instance, start with the regiments where those who fought from the area where you taught are buried as a starting point and an explanation of how others could follow in your footsteps. The geography of WW1 is less well known than the history, except for the ‘Pals’ battalions.

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training and consultancy, including a brief period as a chief government advisor. John is now a recruitment analyst, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and hosts our Career Clinic where you can post questions to him.