Is the grass really greener?

Paul Woodward
28th October 2016 at 15:01

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Is the grass really greener?

Today is a slight departure from the usual D&T blog where I focus on the subject in the context of education but it is also very relevant to the subject so bear with me as I explain. It is no secret that I recently left the teaching profession, in fact it’s at the foot of this very blog, but I continue to contribute to forum discussions, providing resources, developing course material and generally keeping an eye on the world of D&T education. Perhaps after so many years as a teacher it’s in my blood and will always be a part of my life.

It’s inevitable really given my background, the training involved in becoming a teacher and the years watching young people develop their design skills. Luckily my job in industry is very much the best bits of what we do as teachers; designing and making stuff with cool tools and machinery…only without the distraction of students, management and unrealistic goals. It is also no secret that many teachers are considering leaving the profession and that design and technology is struggling to retain its rightful place as a subject vital to the curriculum and the economy.

As someone who has escaped ‘over the fence’ I am often asked questions about what it is like in industry especially from teachers who perhaps have never worked in a design or technological aspect of industry. They seem to be fascinated by what it is that we are really preparing students for and to what extent the ‘real world’ of design is relevant to what is taught in the classroom. So, without further ado, here is my take on the two roles.

The working day is longer…on paper at least but breaks are breaks and no one interrupts your lunch. However, if you consider that I start at 8.30 am and finish at 5pm, and I do mean finish, then my day really is shorter than it was when I was teaching.

The holidays are much shorter and there really is no way of balancing this out, but if you add up all the weekends and holidays you actually spend marking, planning and assessing, it’s not as bad as you may think. Factor in incredibly cheap holidays whenever you want to go and it’s looking almost as green.

The role itself can be very isolated, working in a design office for most of the day staring at a computer screen but it’s very much the same as teaching the same groups week in week out. What I have noticed in my role is that no two days are ever the same and there are many possibilities to diversify. Last month was an all expenses paid trip to Germany. This week involved lots of CAD work, some bench joinery, concept design, a top secret architectural/interior project, meeting with reps to look at new composite materials, redesigning layouts, troubleshooting CNC manufacturing, setting up CNC automation, exhibition design and a new company logo. Who knows what next week will throw at me.

This is very much what attracted me to teach D&T: the fact that no two projects or students were alike, the constant challenge of helping students to achieve success and the chance to play with cool machinery and be creative and productive every day...well, it used to be like that anyway. 

What this job cannot compete with is the teachers pension, sick pay and job security. Yes you read that right. Even though there are annual cutbacks in education, industry is very volatile and you never know from week to week if the factory doors will be closed one day when you arrive at work. On the flip side, the salary can be much better than that of a teacher and that’s without any additional management responsibility.

Bottom line is that I trained as a furniture designer and, back in the 90’s that was a great grounding to be a CDT teacher. Over the years I have always wondered ‘what if I had worked in industry’ and now I am lucky enough to do just that in an environment where I am judged on my skills, creativity and time management; not those of the students in my groups. My efforts are seen and rewarded unlike education where they often went unnoticed and only the negative stuff and poor results were brought up in meetings.

So, is the grass greener on the other side? I would certainly say that the borders could benefit from a little weeding but the answer really depends on how much satisfaction you get from working with young minds and if that passion to see others succeed can survive the seemingly relentless attempts by senior management to see you fail. If you prefer your working day to end at 3pm rather than 5pm and the 16 weeks holidays you get (yeah, right) then it’s probably not but, if like most you actually work until the late hours and hardly have any of your holidays free to relax, it might well be that I now work less hours. What should really be asked is what attracted you to teach a creative subject. If it was the chance to express your own creativity then you have, or most likely will, realise that the classroom is not always the best place for personal creative development; in fact it can be quite the opposite. If however, it was realising and nurturing the creative potential of others in a subject area you love that attracted you then you have probably found your ideal job.

I have always worked in commercial design alongside teaching so this has been no huge shock but the muscle memory still kicks in regularly trying, reminding me that I should be up for school or planning lesson. For now, I’m still going to work wide eyed and learning new skills that I know will be relevant and beneficial should I return to teaching and that makes me feel better about my current career choice. In many ways the question in the title can’t be answered as I am not really 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.



Paul taught Design and Technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty as well as teaching Art, ICT, Photography and Media Studies. He is currently taking a break from education to return to the design industry.

His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.