The best way to get into teaching? My way, of course

The ‘unspoken rivalry’ between straight-from-schoolers and career-changers is ramping up, says Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns

Racing to get started: rivalry between teachers who join the profession straight from university and career-changers

When you were a child, did you ever go around to a friend's house and think that things weren't done the Right Way? Perhaps they didn't put on slippers as soon as they came in through the front door, or they turned the TV off during meals. Things weren't wrong, it just wasn’t the proper way of doing things.

That is how it is in the staffroom when teachers compare their career pathways into education with those of their colleagues – either entering teaching immediately after university or working in other fields before returning to the classroom. While we all imagine alternative vocations at some points in our lives (sometimes daily), I think most secretly believe that the other career route isn't wrong, it just isn’t the right way of doing things.

Background: ‘Traditional profile of student teachers changing’

Long read: Is the fast-track into teaching working?

Figures: New routes into teaching fail to hit target

Those who go straight into teaching might question the commitment of colleagues who didn't have teaching as their first choice, while the career-changers might wonder about the lack of experience of those who only know the education bubble. There is another world out there.

This unspoken rivalry has become more prominent as the number of staff who have had a pre-teaching career rises. It was recently revealed at the Holyrood Education and Skills Committee that 770 new teachers had joined the workforce through this method, tipping the balance slightly away from the majority of teachers whose only previous working experience will have been gathered either part-time or over the holidays.

If I was a headteacher, I know which cohort I would prefer. A teacher who, less than five years ago, would have addressed you deferentially as "Sir" or "Miss" would be far preferable to someone who had experienced working practices beyond education, who may even have been in a position of authority themselves, and would be more likely to have learned how to say "No" to requests from those in authority.

Furthermore, straight-from-schoolers wouldn't need to get up to speed on the unique way things are in a school. When I started as an indirect entrant into teaching after a range of working experiences, I remember being shocked to see teachers blithely walking past a long line of hungry pupils to the front of the queue at lunchtime.

This is perhaps why a school based on the outskirts of Glasgow recruited 14 former pupils out of a total 16 new members of teaching staff at the start of term. The new staff couldn't have expressed their happiness with their old school any more vividly than committing themselves to return, but I'm not sure how healthy this is for the institution as a whole. Returning to the department that inspired your educational views factors out equally valid alternatives.

Of course, for the HR department, fresh-from-school teachers are a godsend, given the long career they have stretching before them. But I wonder if those who tried a different career path are the more satisfied group of teachers. They are not plagued by what might have been gnawing at the back of their minds – they've tried something else but opted for teaching. And other working experience helps.

Speaking personally, no class has been more challenging than either an angry chef screaming at me or knocking on the door of someone whose son has just been murdered.

Gordon Cairns is a teacher of English in Scotland

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