A cautionary tale for those thinking of leaving the teaching profession to seek out an industry role

Paul Woodward
5th September 2017 at 13:13

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, A cautionary tale for those thinking of leaving the teaching profession to seek out an industry role

If you have read previous D&T Subject Genius blogs then you will no doubt be aware that I left the classroom to work in industry. If you have read about my exploits and thought "hmmm, I wouldn't mind leaving teaching for a job like that", then this blog is just for you. Subject-focused blogs will resume next time.

A year ago I left the classroom and workshop and embarked on an exciting and fascinating journey into industry and all was great. For some, working as a professional designer may be what they dreamed of while studying design or perhaps it's what they hoped their brightest D&T students might aspire to. 

Memories of planning, marking, parents evenings and coursework started to slowly fade from my memory. For once, I was responsible for my own creative output, answerable for my own mistakes and able to enjoy success without moderation or dwindling budgets...or so it seemed.

In a previous blog last year, I pondered if the grass is really greener on the other side and concluded that: "I am really not on one lawn or another, more like sitting in a very green and comfortable hedge waiting to see how the grass grows on each side."

Over the course of the year, I saw the subject suffer ongoing cutbacks, a recruitment crisis and a growing trend for removing the subject altogether. Many people contacted me for advice on "how to get out" of teaching and I saw a burgeoning number of forum posts on the same subject.

This isn't a tale of woe but, unlike most of my blogs where I focus on the subject area of D&T, this is a cautionary tale for those thinking of leaving the classroom to work in the design industry. I think the image at the top of the page pretty much sums up my own experience.

At first the job was the stuff of dreams, with the freedom to explore the product, the competition and my creative skills. I watched staff come and go during the weeks and months, oblivious to the reasons why, as I enjoyed my new-found creative freedom. It was only as designers in my team began to leave and weren't replaced that I started to feel that old familiar feeling...

Yes, industry is very much like teaching. The more you do, the more is expected of you. Work quickly and it becomes an expectation that you can work even quicker, like a productivity version of Moore's Law. Perform more than one role proficiently and they will become yours along with a few others a penny-pinching MD might find for you to do. As a professional, you usually concede and get on with the task in hand.

More worryingly, all the good things you do and your successes can be quickly forgotten when a mistake is made. Complacent students can be replaced with complacent workers, SLT become accountants and managers, pushy parents become pushy customers, points are replaced with pounds and that workload from school is often replaced with another more demanding one which often carries responsibility for the employment of others and large amounts of money.

I am under no illusions that this particular role is representative of the design industry and there are some great roles out there working in a professional and productive environment. As roles in school can seem attractive at first, so can jobs in industry and, if the employer is eager to gain your services, it's possible to sugar-coat the whole thing to make it even more attractive.

Suffice to say, I no longer work for that particular company for many more reasons than I have already alluded to (or could legally do so), but that's not the purpose of this blog. I would simply like to offer this as a cautionary tale for those thinking of leaving the teaching profession to seek out an industry role based on perceptions of what it might be, based on their teaching of the subject.

Of course, it might be that leaving teaching for an industry role is perfectly right for you, but before you decide, take a moment to consider if you are heading to the bright lights of industry or running away from an oppressive or unfulfilling classroom experience. You might just find that you are walking into many of the same issues but in a different environment...with much shorter holidays!

The experience was invaluable and has completely changed my attitude to teaching D&T in so many positive ways. I don't regret my decision at all. It's still thrilling when I hear a customer has purchased (at considerable cost) something I designed, but I have inevitably been drawn back into the world of creative education. To close, the picture above perfectly illustrates my point. It's not always a case of whether the grass is actually greener on the other side. Sometimes it looks lovely but it turns out to be a piece of Astroturf stretched over a big hole. In which case, tread very carefully indeed.


Paul is an experienced teacher, examiner, moderator and consultant in Design and Technology who has also worked in industry as a designer, artist and musician. He is currently Head of Creative Arts in a successful Yorkshire boarding school.