The juggling act of retraining to become a teacher

Being a dad, a full-time job, resitting a GCSE and teacher training – it's all in day's work for this writer-turned-teacher

Teacher training, training, english teacher, mature teacher

I can remember the moment I decided that teaching was for me.

I went into my old secondary comprehensive, Priesthorpe in Leeds to deliver some writing-themed starters to groups of Year 10s and 11s. I’d returned to simply gain some school experience before applying for my PGCE, but due to some misplaced bravado I’d decided to try and offer up a writing warm up technique I’d learned myself.   

The activity was real writing workshop 101: write in "flash fiction" style based around an image. Write in silence. Don’t let your pen leave the page for three minutes. Try telling a story based on the image, but let your mind and pen wander if need be. Just keep writing.

Most of the students seemed fairly sceptical, but were polite enough to humour me. When they read out their work, it was, in nearly all cases, innovative, creative and engaging.

Then one boy read out his piece. All thought I can’t remember it verbatim, it revolved around a monkey being punted in the sun, before taking a sharp digression into his own reflections on how he felt worried he might not achieve the exam results he was capable of. It was funny, but it was also extremely honest. As someone who had spent most of my working life in drab offices, where corporate language fudges and disguises, this rawness and honesty was unbelievably refreshing.

It was those sessions that allowed me to envision a life where my real passion, writing, could be put to real use as a teacher of English.

Outside of the hamster wheel of the 9-5 where I worked mainly in admin, I’d somehow managed to create a successful sideline as a writer and author on culture and sport. I’d been lucky enough to write for lots of fairly big name publications and my last book was a Guardian sports book of the year in 2017.

I realised that my writing didn’t have to be something which had no relevance to what I did day-to-day. It could become something which helped shape and influence my own profession, rather than a passion only utilised on evenings and weekends.

Not long after the monkey punting incident, I secured a provisional place on a schools direct route with The Yorkshire Rose Teaching Alliance, and the PGCE qualification provided by Leeds Trinity University.

It was provisional because *whispers* I wasn’t the most driven of students when I was teenager. I didn’t have my Maths GCSE, having secured a D many years prior. I had to pass the skills tests, and I also needed to pass an SKE course, provided by Tes.

With a newborn baby and a full-time job in the aforementioned office, teacher training took real will power. I’d go to college twice a week after work, and also log into HegertyMaths and GCSE Bitesize on my break. I’d read the texts required for my SKE course and revise for my skills tests on busses to and from work. And either Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both, were devoted to completing modules on the SKE.  

The book writing, had, to a certain extent, made me used to making sacrifices. But there was times when I wondered why I needed to do all this, and if it was really worth it.

But, one by one, I knocked off the requirements from the list. The skills tests, the GCSE (and an equivalency test) and then finally the SKE. I suppose the desire to have more moments like I’d experienced at Priesthorpe, coupled with the fear of being stuck doing the same work for the rest of my life, was what kept me going.

I don’t mean that as a woe-is-me story. I know lots of teachers, both qualified and current trainees, have gone through similar experiences. My English colleagues at Leeds Trinity and the other subject trainees via Yorkshire Rose are all extremely talented, and all come via different routes. But ultimately what led me to teaching helps keep me going, and has sustained me during the tough times.

Ultimately, I love teaching so far. It hasn’t all be tough. OK, I don’t have a full timetable and I’m still learning the trade. But I really do use my passion for writing and reading every day. Some students are interested, others less so. Not every day, or even every week, goes smoothly. But I’ve had plenty more monkey punting moments since I started.

The teaching profession can get some bad press. But I hope if you’re reading this and considering entering into it, you don’t listen just to the negatives. Perhaps you do know it’s for you, but you aren’t quite sure how you’ll get there. If I could do it, I’m certain you can too.

James Oddy is a trainee English teacher

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