Career clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about changes of heart and professional direction

Maybe it's time to move on

I have hit a "brick wall" after 17 years of teaching. I'm tired of the constant scrutiny and often backstabbing behaviour of some of my colleagues. I love working with the children, though, so am considering downgrading to a teaching assistant post. Is this possible? Alternatively, I might leave teaching altogether. Is it best to be honest with my head and admit that I am looking to leave teaching or should I keep my cards close to my chest?

As it is your career, I do not think you need to say anything until you have actually made an application for another job. You can say something when you need to warn the head about a reference request, bearing in mind resignation dates.

Heads do keep their ears and eyes open and colleagues are often able to pick up on stray comments, so it may be worth a conversation with the head earlier rather than later. Unless the head is also part of the problem, there may be something he or she can do to help.

It is perfectly possible to apply for a teaching assistant or higher-level teaching assistant post, although the salary and other benefits will not be as good as those in teaching. And you should keep an eye on your pension arrangements.

There is no formal place specifically for teachers to look for alternative careers. Assuming that you are around the age of 40, I am afraid you may find that starting a new career in the present economic climate is not easy.

You should also bear in mind possibilities such as private tuition, marking for exam boards and the new parenting classes the Government is going to develop that are related to education. Otherwise, list your skills and interests and see how they match jobs on offer in your local newspaper or on job boards.

You might benefit from visiting the Teacher Support Network website ( or having a chat with a member of the network's staff, who can discuss the issues you face in much more depth than is possible here.

Regret over switching schools

After six wonderful years of teaching in three very different schools, I left my last position in order to seek promotion. In September, I started at a new school where I am now an assistant head. The problem is that I do not like this school and am not happy here. People around me have noticed that I have changed and, on their advice, I went to see the doctor, who told me I was depressed. Since then, I have spent some time off work and feel as though I can't carry on in teaching.

I have confessed to this before and so have no difficulty doing so again. Over the past 40 years, I have twice taken on jobs that I realised afterwards were mistakes. So I bailed out. There is nothing wrong in that, although it helps to stay for a year if you can.

Our brain offers us two responses to a challenge: fight or flight. Normally, I suspect that you are a fighter. When you identified that this move was wrong for you, you started by fighting that fact. However, when other options are exhausted, flight can eventually become the only route to self-preservation.

A new job should help to restore the equilibrium. In the meantime, you will certainly benefit from visiting the Teacher Support Network ( and having a chat with one of its staff. I am sure it will help to know you are not alone, especially if this is the first real attack on your self-esteem.

Do not consider leaving the profession - but a change of workplace is definitely necessary. If you take a break, perhaps do some continuing professional development in the summer term - it will make your CV look better. You can always provide a good reason why the move did not work out.

If you secured an assistant headship after six years, you are a good teacher - so perhaps you either moved through your career a bit too fast or you just picked the wrong school.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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