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Teaching careers – What makes us want to do the job?

Some of us might dream that our teaching talents will propel students onwards to fame and fortune, but there’s plenty of joy to be found in those everyday wins, says Stephen Walker…

  • Teaching careers – What makes us want to do the job?

I’m a career changer, coming to teaching after 20 years in the design industry. My motivation was (and still is) opening up the world of opportunity that design offers – the challenge and creative joy.

My own teachers inspired me, and now it’s literally my job to inspire a new generation. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m now in my second year of teaching, however, so some may be wondering whether my idealistic view of the job has changed…

Getting into teaching

I chose to move into teaching via Essex School Direct and TES Institute, following some great advice from the DfE’s ‘Get in to teaching’ team. One of the hardest things to adjust to has been the awful software from decades past, which we have no choice but to use on equally outdated hardware.

I appreciate this a very privileged gripe, but whilst working in design I’d become accustomed to having fit-for-purpose tools that allowed people to do their work efficiently. I would imagine that not every school’s tech is as antiquated, but that’s certainly the case at my London fringe state school.

This could have ended up being a constant source of irritation, but with the support and advice of colleagues, I found ways to take advantage of the situation. I’ve been encouraged to go back to basics, creating by hand rather than taking digital shortcuts, and learning to walk before I can run. The advantage of this is that the work is made more inclusive for students; I can ensure that they all have access to sharp pencils, instead of fully charged digital devices.

Another challenge of the new job has been the constant switching between different contexts. My days of working on something consistently for three hours or more are over. I now have to jump into different worlds for an hour at a time, on four or five occasions each day.

Just when something is starting to take shape or get somewhere exciting, it has to be packed up and saved for next time.

That’s not to say there aren’t any upsides to this; it can create anticipation for the next lesson, or
potentially save me from having to drag out something that’s not going so well…

Design as a creative outlet

One huge upside to teaching, however, and one which has been consistent in my experience so far, is the supportive nature of other teachers. We really do care about each other, a lot. Any time I’ve ever had a problem, or wondered how I might do something, a colleague has been on hand to help or at least point me in the direction of someone who can.

There’s an even bigger benefit hidden away in all this; I’ve often find myself helping other people in turn, and from a mental health and wellbeing point of view, there are few things better than that.

When I first moved into teaching, my ambitions centred on inspiring a new generation of designers – the idea that one of my pupils might go on to become an award-winning household name. But now I’m in the job, I’ve found I enjoy the process of using design as a creative outlet.

For some students, the academic world can feel arduous. If my lessons can be an oasis of creativity on their timetables, where their ideas make sense and the journey is enjoyable, then so much the better.

As for my own journey, I’m becoming a more confident teacher by the day – in large part down to the guidance of the tutors during my training, and the support of my school colleagues.

Stephen Walker is a design teacher at Davenant Foundation School in Essex; he previously spent 20 years as a designer before training to become a teacher through a Schools Direct training programme with Tes Institute

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