Outdoor adventures inspire engineer

“At the age of 38 I decided it was a good time to realise a dream that had been gathering momentum and become a teacher. I had spent 15 years with Bombardier Aerospace (formerly Short Brothers) in Belfast, after graduating in engineering. During my time there I was promoted to a variety of technical roles, gained a masters degree in manufacturing and became a chartered engineer.  I was involved in large projects and travelled around Europe and North America.

“Outside work, I had become the training officer for the local division of the St John Ambulance Brigade for both adults and cadets. The cadet training is structured on four levels; bronze, silver, gold and Grand Prior. As well as basic first aid, cadets choose 24 modules from over 80 subjects including photography, outdoor adventure, DIY, legal studies, and patient handling. I’ve found this instruction-based role very rewarding and it planted the seed of the idea of becoming a teacher.

Get the timing right
“The time for a career change was right for me because I had reached the summit of technical possibilities in my field and I didn’t really fancy the option of going into management. Managers I saw at work all seemed to be tearing out their hair and stressed out with paperwork, and seemed to work longer hours without much thanks or appreciation..

“Perhaps more important, my three children were all young, and needy of my time rather than my money! If I was going to convert and take a salary hit, it seemed an optimum time to do it.”

Enrol on the right course
I looked around local colleges and enquired about doing PGCE full-time but wasn’t that impressed with the level of service I received. I was disappointed with the responses from these universities, but when I contacted the Open University (OU) I was really impressed with their advice and follow-up to each and every question that I had.  I also liked the idea of working from home and the placement schools rather than begin again with young students.

The “Golden Hello” bursaries available to students in England for shortage subjects were no longer available to Northern Ireland students when I applied for the course. But I did have my course fees paid for by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland (DENI).  Fortuitously, however, after I had applied for the PGCE with the OU, Bombardier Aerospace announced that it wanted volunteers for redundancy and I netted £14,000 in redundancy, plus three months wages in lieu.  It was still a shock when I requested redundancy on a Tuesday and was out four days later on the Friday.

Find a mix of study and work to suit
Initially I wanted to teach science, especially physics, but the OU told me that my engineering degree might not satisfy the requirements for entry, and suggested design and technology instead.  I hadn’t heard of this subject having left school in 1983, but I visited some local schools to have a look and decided that it was the right choice, especially given my engineering background.

The OU course took me just over a year to complete, however the fact that I completed the course in May, ahead of the majority of PGCE students proved to be an advantage. I had schools ringing and asking me to do cover for workshops (I also had the City and Guilds 6131 certificate that is necessary for teaching Technology & Design in Northern Ireland), with the first cover job turning into a seven months spell of teaching at a local grammar school.

Aim for a work life balance
“It does get a lot easier as time passes: the first two years were incredibly stressful and there were days when I thought I’d made a big mistake. I’ve always been into outdoor activities and my cycle ride to and from school helped de-stress me – on a hard day I would do an extra hill on the way home! “

Also the fact that I had a young family meant I had to get work life balance right. Not sitting up for hours doing lesson planning meant I was fresher for the next day.  It is something I keep working at, because I have found that there is a temptation to almost over prepare a lesson.

Was it a good move?
I now work at the Monkstown Community School in a suburb of Belfast. The pupils aren’t A grade  but they’re great kids to work with and every day is so rewarding   I currently teach technology and design, maths, science and careers, which is a challenge but really enjoyable when I get pupils that are keen and responsive.

Now that I’ve have settled in and the pupils know my routines, I spend more time doing other activities that I really enjoy:  I’ve been involved in the Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, the school has sent me to gain my Mountain Leader Award, I have started an Indoor Rock Climbing club and am planning to start an Outdoor Club. These aspects make the whole change (including the salary drop) worthwhile; they are opportunities I would never have had at Bombardier Aerospace. 

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