High-flyers come down to earth
MANAGING a class of teenagers is just like managing a group of adults without cars, mortgages or children. This is the conclusion Denise Dawson reached after five years as an English and communications teacher at Biddenham upper school in Bedfordshire.
In 1998, the 48-year-old mother of two gave up a lucrative career as a management consultant for the less tangible rewards of the classroom.
"If you have a certain amount of empathy, you can put yourself in the shoes of a 14-year-old or a 29-year-old," she said. "It may seem different, but it's not. The management skills are transferable."
Ms Dawson was recruited to teaching by the Teacher Training Agency, which aims to capitalise on the valuable maths, science and language skills of disaffected City workers. It is not an obvious transition. The ego-driven capitalism of the City is unlikely to translate easily into education. But, several years on, few former financial hot-shots have any regrets.
Ruth Holden retrained as a teacher in 1996 after seven years working for HSBC bank. In September, the 30-year-old became assistant head at Catford girls' school, in south London.
She said: "The things that come with being part of a leadership team are the same in any situation: conflict resolution, people-management, budgeting. But I like dealing with children. An environment that's people-orientated is more suited to my personality."
Denise Dawson agrees: "Teaching is emotionally satisfying. It's less to do with money and more to do with helping people to grow and develop."
Teaching also enables Ms Dawson to spend more time with her family. "In my old job, I wouldn't be home until 9pm," she said. "Now I get home at 4pm, have a break, then do some marking and report-writing. I'm there with my children, which makes a difference."
Ian Robson, 39, gave up a career as a City trader to teach maths at Ashcombe school in Surrey. He said: "I get up later in the morning. I can take a break in the late afternoon, and then do marking at night. And I get an extra seven weeks' holiday."
But, he adds, it can be more taxing than City work: "In banking, you were under enormous pressure sometimes, but there were other times when you could get the newspaper out and relax. In teaching, you're under low-level pressure all the time. There's no time to sit back and do nothing."
The career change also required certain lifestyle adjustments. Mr Robson earns less than half his former salary.
"It was a huge drop," he said. "A City bonus could easily be two or three years' teaching salary. Without my savings, I couldn't afford to keep up my lifestyle."
Happy to surrender the big-spender lifestyle of her consultancy days, Denise Dawson has found that public perception is directly linked to salary. She said: "People become arrogant. They get their kudos from their jobs, not themselves.
"But that's a big mistake. I've learned lots from my students, which you can't do unless you're humble and accept you have something to learn."