Just the ticket
Nine years ago, Maxeen Morgan decided to become a teacher. It was a big step. She'd had a series of unchallenging jobs since leaving school more than 20 years earlier, including driving a number 37 bus through south London. Now 46, she is still dealing with traffic, but these days it's children travelling to classes rather than commuters going to work.
Ms Morgan teaches at Hillmead primary school in Brixton, south London, an old building enclosed on all sides by the Barrier, one of the most notorious housing estates in London and home to many of the school's 460 pupils.
"Nothing presents such a challenge as teaching, especially in a school where you can really help the children," says Ms Morgan. "I wouldn't want to work in a nice middle-class school."
She came to Hillmead for teacher practice five years ago and never left. She decided to become a teacher after meeting a young man who had just returned from travelling abroad and who was picking up his disability allowance from the post office.
"I asked him why someone like him was signing on and he replied, 'Because I can'," says Ms Morgan. "I thought, 'What a waste'." The message hit home and she took another look at her own situation. "When I was at school I always wanted to be either a teacher or a doctor, but I left as soon as I could," she says. Within a year, she was married and expecting the first of her five children. Her subsequent career became a series of unskilled jobs dotted between her pregnancies.
"After talking to this man I resigned, and signed on to an access into teaching course the following week," she says. During this year shewon the South London region of Adult Learner of the Year from NIACE, the national organisation for adult learning.
After finishing the access course she began her degree at South Bank University. The next four years were spent bringing up her children, holding down jobs to pay for them and college, and sitting up until 2am studying. But however unskilled her previous jobs, she soon found they had taught her something. When asked what bus driving has given her, she answers: "Tolerance." She had to deal with angry people, annoyed if the bus was late, drunks, rowdy youths and, of course, the daily grind of London's traffic.
"I became used to dealing with different sorts of people every day. It taught me to be diplomatic, and I need that to deal with parents and children. And it taught me to have a more positive outlook on life."
One of her worst days involved a wrong turning that took her to Twickenham instead of Richmond, to the fury of her passengers. She can laugh about it now - "I hold the record for being the latest bus - nearly two-and-a-half hours that time."
She did other jobs, which were mostly office-bound but which helped develop other skills. Administration posts, one in a theatre and another in a housing association, taught her organisational skills that she's readily used in the classroom. She also did a course in management and office practice, followed by an HND in business and finance.
Her positive attitude is also bolstered by a belief that she has found a job that challenges her and gives her the satisfaction that was missing for most of her previous working life. And she is pleased to be at a school where she can really contribute. In fact, she plans to ride out the rest of her career there.