What Are Schools Looking For? A Headteacher’s Perspective

Carolyn Walker-Sharp is a Guidance and Development Adviser with the Transition to Teach programme and works to support participants as they train to teach. She has over 30 years in education, substantial experience in leadership and management, and is an experienced mentor and coach. Here, Carolyn gives a headteacher’s perspective on what schools are looking for in career changer trainees – and the unique qualities career changers can bring to the classroom.

It was about thirty-five years ago today that I sat fresh faced and uncomfortably dressed in a brand-new suit with huge shoulder pads, waiting for what seemed like forever for the phone to ring. I had nervously sparkled, hesitated, enthused, lectured and shown what I could do at my first teaching interview. I was hoping to begin the journey of a lifetime… and I did!

For me, teaching has been a wonderful career – full of highs and lows. I’ve learnt many things but, above all, I’ve learned that excellent teaching is as much about passion, listening, questioning, humour, caring, nurturing and having fun as it is about imparting knowledge. It is about motivating students not only to learn but teaching them how to learn and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful and memorable.

I began my teaching life eager to transmit a body of knowledge to the bright, hopeful faces in front of me, but it was only as a headteacher that I learnt that what a school really wants from its staff is good potential and the right attitude. While teaching talent can be taught, attitude is what matters most. A willingness to work hard, build trust, and to be fair at all times. One of the most important elements of teaching is building relationships with students. With this, you can build successful bonds, inspire and have a fantastic impact; you can open doors for the next generation.

Becoming a teacher as a career changer enables you to bring with you a wealth of skills. If you think back to your own school days and ask yourself what you have learnt since then, the answers will be innumerable: resilience, insight, leadership skills, teamworking, strategic thinking, good communication, parenting experience, drive. Attributes gained through coping with adversity, experiencing different people, working hard, failing, reflecting, changing, improving and succeeding. These are the skills that have made you the person you are today, and they are also the skills you can bring to the classroom; the skills you can use to make a real difference to a young person’s future.

Your resilience will enable you to reflect, improve and challenge yourself in a new environment. Your insight will enable you to enthuse young people, prioritise your workload and work effectively as part of a team.  Your leadership will enable you to inspire, build strong bonds and pick yourself up after a tough day. Strategic thinking will enable you to problem solve, analyse data and apply new thinking. Parenting experience will enable you to understand, empathise and bring a knowledge of child development.

One of the greatest advantages of entering teaching as a second career is the diversity and abundance of life experience that you can bring with you. Understanding how the ‘real world’ works is invaluable as it gives you a fundamental understanding of the skills that are needed in life. You are not only able to teach those skills, but you can make them exciting and relevant to young people.

Entering teaching as a second career has its benefits and risks, like any other change, but I can promise you there is no other career like it. You will laugh every day, you will never be bored and you will be constantly challenged intellectually, but most of all as a career changer, you will bring a unique perspective and strong skillset from your previous role that will enhance the children’s learning experiences and allow you to bring an outsider perspective to a role that is constantly changing and adapting.

Are you interested in training to teach? Transition to Teach is a government-funded programme offering free support and advice for those who are facing redundancy and may be interested in teaching. For more information, simply express your interest at https://www.transitiontoteach.co.uk/expression-of-interest/