Scrubs to school: why I swapped medicine for teaching

Jess Dobson spent more than a decade working as a doctor before hanging up her stethoscope to return to school. So how is she finding the transition?

nqt doctor to teacher

“I gave out my first house point today!” I shouted down the phone, giddily.

I could hear the relief in my husband’s voice as he replied.

I had spent the previous night crying over dinner, unable to hold any kind of coherent conversation. I was overwhelmed and exhausted.

So the house point was a small win, and yet a massive deal. 

I am a doctor. I have spent the last 11 years working as a paediatrician but recently hung up my stethoscope to retrain as a primary teacher. 

I remember buzzing after my teacher-training interview, full of passion, enthusiasm and excitement. Above all, I saw possibility.

Nervous excitement

Everything to do with schools and education feels new to me. This is hugely exciting, of course, but it also terrifies me.

In the space of a few weeks, I have gone from being knowledgeable, respected and good at my job, to completely clueless and overwhelmed. 

I look at my class teacher, her subject knowledge, her ability to control the room and facilitate learning and I see a mountain to climb.

On one of my first days in school, I helped marshal 45 children to the local swimming pool. That was an experience. The next day I put up a display, only to realise that I had missed a letter out. 

Everything feels new: using a staple gun, photocopier, guillotine…things that teachers take for granted. That’s before we even start thinking about planning, assessment for learning, differentiating and so on. 

I drive to work each morning with my head spinning, reciting my times tables.

At the end of each day, I leave school feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what I am facing.

From bar charts and hundred squares to subordinate clauses and past-perfect verbs. Maths mastery, inclusion, phonemes, planning for progression...

Social space

Faced with hundreds of questions, I turned to Twitter. 

The value of using social media for continued professional development is now well documented and I am so happy to be a part of it. Hashtags like #edutwitter and #PrimaryRocks were a great place to start.

As I reached out, teachers from all over offered me support, answered my questions and recommended resources. They reminded me that it was OK to feel overwhelmed and that above all, self-care is crucial to surviving in teaching.

You can’t escape the stories of teacher burnout and exhaustion, and more staff leaving the profession than ever before. My Twitter tribe was right. If I am to get through this year (and the many more to come), I have to find time for me. 

So, as I go into my fourth week, I have gained some perspective. I’ve booked a weekend away, caught up with some friends and realised that it isn’t as overwhelming as I thought.

I have also spoken to my course lead and class teacher, and to my friends and family. As much as I wanted to tell them all that I’ve loved every minute of training so far, I couldn’t. 

Instead, I was honest. I spoke of the highs and lows, explained my vulnerabilities and asked for support. In doing so, I stand a better chance of succeeding. Because I know I will love it.

Jess Dobson is a trainer teacher with the Ilkley All Saints' Teacher Training Partnership in Yorkshire. She has left the medical profession as a paediatrician to train to become a primary school teacher in the 5-11 age range

For World Teachers' Day 2019, Tes is having a new teacher takeover – every piece published on our website on 5 October will be by a new or early career teacher. Find the rest of the articles at our World Teachers' Day hub.

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