‘When will I ever need to use this again, Miss?’

Stephen Henry is a Guidance and Development Adviser with the Transition to Teach programme and works to support participants as they train to teach. He has worked in education for over 25 years, including in senior roles across several schools in the north west of England. Here, Stephen discusses the soft skills that career changers can bring to the classroom and why diversity in teacher recruitment is so vital.

As someone who has observed hundreds of lessons over twenty years this is possibly the number one complaint from children, sometimes they just don’t see the relevance of what they are being taught. I have heard it said by children of different ages and backgrounds in a whole range of subjects, although I have to say that mathematics was particularly susceptible to this exclamation and often at volume. As a former teacher of sex education, it is not something that I can say was ever said in those lessons!

This perceived lack of relevance is something that children find frustrating and demotivating, especially when learning something new or abstract. What is often missing is the application of this new knowledge into a context that is relevant or meaningful. For teachers that join the profession direct from their undergraduate studies this is something that is possible but can only be done second-hand. Those who have had the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills over many years in a ‘real world’ setting can offer children direct and concrete answers to that question.

However, it is not just the technical understanding that being able to speak as a former pilot, engineer, or accountant brings to children’s education but also the ‘softer skills’ that career changers have had to deploy to navigate their way through a successful career.

According to Biesta (2010), education has several purposes:

Qualification – providing the skills and knowledge to become a productive member of society

Socialisation – imparting the shared culture including norms and values to the next generation

Subjectification – helping children develop as individuals

When applying this to those entering teaching it is not just in the first dimension of qualification that career changers bring added value but also in the second and third dimension i.e. their ability to share their learning from having lived a life.

Children crave teachers that are caring and interesting, and this often translates to being colourful. It amazed me that the best loved teachers and those that often won ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards in school were those that brought something a little bit different. The best teachers are seen by children as cult figures and often these teachers have a back story, a history outside of education and stories to engage them. I have known drama teachers who were former actors, PE teachers who were former footballers and a PSHE teacher who was a stand-up comic. At least, this was his explanation of why I used to hear children shouting out in the classroom next door that his lessons ‘were a joke’ and why he would often be called a ‘joker’ by children as he walked through the canteen! It is having a back catalogue of experiences that not only made their teaching engaging but also equipped the teachers with the skills of resilience and flexibility to work with the children.

To return to the question in the title, I have heard many responses ranging from ‘In tomorrow’s lesson’ to ‘Get out!’ but the best response came from a career changer. Their reply was: ‘It’s good to question why you are doing what you are doing, that leads to a deeper understanding and ultimately progress’. The child looked confused and I am not sure they fully understood the reply, but it earned the teacher new respect and I could see that we had the makings of a very good teacher.

One of my mottos as a headteacher was that ‘Every child needs a member of staff that cares for them’. Now it might seem like stating the obvious but the unspoken truth in teaching is that, while you generally like children, some make it very hard to like them at times. In the same way that children cannot equally like all their teachers, and we all have our favourites from when we were at school, teachers cannot like all of their children equally. However, it is essential that every child has at least one other adult in school that they know likes and cares for them deeply. To achieve this, there need to be teachers from all backgrounds, cultures, personalities, and experiences so that every child can seek out that someone who really gets them and can inspire them.

That is where you come in as someone who can reach that child that otherwise may go unnoticed and drift through school lacking any ambitions. If it is the case that children currently entering school will one day need to become the scientists, artists and carers of tomorrow then how much would they be inspired by listening to, speaking to and being cared for by someone who really knows what it is like?


Biesta, G. (2010) Good Education in an Age of Measurement. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

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/