After five years' teaching, I need a break...

29th October 2004 at 01:00
After five years' teaching, I need a break and want to take a year out to go travelling. Will this harm my career prospects?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice -or offer some of your own

Ted says

The first question to ask yourself is, "Why do you feel you need a career break?" Are you tired? Fed up? Not enjoying life in school? Always deal with causes rather than symptoms, so is it teaching you need a break from, or some other aspect of your life?

Teachers can benefit enormously from travel; in their work, and in their lives generally, short and long-term. Plan an expedition carefully so it is a positive experience. There is no point in setting off on a world tour, only to run out of money in Calais. Decide whether touring is to be purely for fun and to broaden your mind, or whether, for example, you might want to take a job, in teaching or some other field, while on your journey. If you plan to carry on teaching when you return, make sure you bring back plenty of useful mementoes: photos, bus tickets, menus, brochures and interesting artefacts.

You may find certain problems when you get back. A year out should not be held against you; some schools might even welcome a teacher with such initiative. Allow plenty of time back home to make applications for a new job. Interviewing panels usually want to see candidates rather than merely peruse applications received from abroad. Be prepared for searching questions about why you took a break and what you did with it. Good answers can work to your advantage.

While travelling, keep in touch with developments here. If the Government continues to have a wheeze a week, don't look bereft in your interviews ("literacy hour? What the hell's that about then?"). The job market may become tighter in your absence so you will need to be on your toes, and be flexible about where you work.


It is an enriching experience

Absolutely not! With five years' experience you have shown you are up to the job. Ignore scaremongers who claim it will hold back promotion prospects. My one-year break turned into four fabulous years travelling and teaching across Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and I have never regretted it. I regularly include tales from my travels to enrich my lessons and the students love them. If you work while you are abroad, it shows you are versatile and have experienced other systems. Either way, you will have new ideas and, compared with colleagues trudging up the career ladder, will be full of energy!

Vickie Moncrief, West Sussex

Consider alternatives

Whatever you do, your experience will enrich your teaching, but your time out may not necessarily enrich your career. Be aware that ease of finding a job on your return will depend on what you do with your time and how profitable it is seen to be. Take a careful look at why you want a year out: maybe time out of another kind would fulfil the same purpose. There are exchanges, study visits and personal development opportunities available that would not entail your having to give up your job, but could revitalise your career and give you a much-needed change. You wouldn't necessarily have to take a whole year out, either: there are short-term opportunities of varying lengths.

Angela Pollard, Guernsey

Have no regrets

I went travelling after five years in teaching as I needed a break and wanted to see some of the world. It was one of the most important years of my life; it taught me that there is a life outside the classroom, and meeting new people who did not have a background in education was enlightening and challenging. I grew in confidence and independence and pushed myself into situations I would ordinarily have shied away from. It also made me realise I missed teaching. I came back refreshed and full of enthusiasm. I had no difficulties getting work or developing my career, and heads commented on the benefits a year out can bring. Enjoy yourself, you may regret it if you don't.

Theresa Woulfe, Birmingham

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