Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Direction Needed

For the last two and a half years I have been "in my element". Sir Ken Robinson* would define that as having a passion and a natural aptitude for doing something. I would be one of those who says "this is what floats my boat" and "this is who I am".

I'm an independent volunteer teacher of computing. I have spent 18 months teaching kids in India and 12 months teaching teachers in Sri Lanka. I find that I have an aptitude and a passion for what I've been doing. I love it! But it's all about to change when I return to the UK in April. I'll have no job and no home to go to, but worse: I fear I will lose my identity. Trouble is, I am not a qualified teacher and, because of that, I'm worried that I'll lose the "me" that I have become.

Brief background:
I'm 56 and for the last 30 months I've been volunteering as a teacher of computing - teaching basic stuff like office applications, simple graphics, and basic hardware in India. Internet, browsers, searching, email, Skype, photo editing, Twitter, Facebook, blogging etc in Sri Lanka.

Previously I was employed as an electronics design engineer, safety system programmer/maintainer and web master at JET - a research centre near Oxford. I was there for 21 years. (I have an upper second BSc in Electronics Engineering and Computer Science from 1981). It was a good job; I enjoyed it a lot, but the passion was not all it might have been.

For the last 18 months of my time there I helped out one afternoon a week at a Special Needs school. I found it so rewarding that I became convinced I would enjoy teaching. That was a key factor in me giving up my safe existence and taking a gamble.

What happens next?
I'll return to the UK in April and I'm wondering which direction I should take. My intention is to stay in the UK for 2-3 years or so, to spend time with my son and daughter (in their 20s), to get some teacher training in, earn a bit of cash and then go off volunteer-teaching again but in even less developed countries this time.

What I want to do is improve my teaching skills to make myself more effective in the classroom.

People tell me that a PGCE would give me the theory but not the classroom practice, and I wouldn't be able to take on paid work while training - it's a 100% commitment. And then there are the fees...

One ex-headmistress has suggested I get into school tech support by touting my CV from school to school - turning up on doorsteps and getting my face known. She says I will find schools willing to let me teach based on my experience alone, in addition to doing tech support work. I am not so sure.

A teacher has suggested the Graduate Teacher Programme but I understand there's huge competition for that, and I'm unsure how I get the employment element in the first place.

What I do know is that I love working with young learners and I would prefer some pedagogical challenge as part of any employment.

So, you see, I'm somewhat lost!

In writing this I'm hoping that someone might have some insights or opinions to guide me and I welcome your comments below.

[* Ref Sir Ken Robinson: Ideas for modern living: passion, posted 22/2/2011]


  1. Hey Clive,

    I feel your pain dude.

    I think that getting the PGCE is a good step in terms of opening the doors you mind need, but the reality is if you're intending to leave the UK again in the not-so-distant future, then it's not probably necessary. But then, 2-3 years is a long time in the UK without the qualification... is it too long? That's your call I guess.

    I also wouldn't rule out the idea of tech-support and training - you might even be able to extend that to community-based training programmes that will pay you - perhaps enough to cover fees of the PGCE. Your CV and experience in that regard should easily be enough.

    It's the era of the "Big Society" in the UK, so I should hope and expect community-based initiatives to develop... and you could be coming in at the right time.

    I wish you all the very best with it though... not an easy transition to make.

  2. Hi Clive, you have been very honest and open. You have proved yourself as a committed and professional teacher. I know that in Australia you would get a job easily in tertiary education or by completing a one year diploma of education you would be qualified to teach at secondary school. Go and knock on doors. Your passion alone should see those doors are wide open. Good luck, Verona.

  3. Hi Clive,
    The phrase "I feel I will lose my identity" resonated strongly with me... both in the fact that you are vulnerable and willing to share your fear and that teaching has become a part of your identity.

    I left classroom teaching for three years to enter the business sector as a curriculum developer/trainer. During those years, every time I told someone what I did, I was aware of the difference in how I felt about my work and my connection to my work. As a teacher, I would proudly say I was a teacher, and then I'd get ready for the discussions that would inevitably follow. When I had to start saying, "I'm a job trainer or I'm a curriculum developer for a small company." I felt completely different. Eventually, the part of my "identity" that was a teacher won over the other parts and now I'm back teaching in a school again.

    It sounds like you know who you are and what you want, so you'll find a way.

    I don't know how easy it is in other countries... but I'm pretty sure someone with a background in engineering, who is competent using technology, and writes with passion about how he feels about teaching... could find a school or organization in the US that would hire you. I started my teaching career on an emergency credential in a high need area, and earned my Masters and credential in the evenings. Maybe you could find something like that?

    Of course... I would guess though that "Traveler" is a big part of your identity too, so I hope you don't get stuck for too many years in the same place. :)

    Good luck! (PS. Again, love the pictures!)

  4. Hi guys! Thank you for your empathetic comments - I really appreciate that you took the trouble to offer them :)

    Paul! Hope you're thriving after your stint of overseas volunteering!
    Thanks for the suggestions. I will keep an eye out for any community-based initiatives and assess them as and when. All grist to the mill!

    Verona - Thank You! That's confidence-inspiring! I do try to be open and not over-promise so that people know what to expect from me. I know it might reduce opportunities but I'd rather that than let someone down.

    Stephanie (@clickbrick) Thank you for sharing your experiences. Yes, there's a justified pride in saying you're a teacher. I'm glad you found the true you.
    I think I know what I want. Today I had to turn down the possibility of a job for which I would have been a perfect fit if I didn't mind not teaching or learning to teach. Had I been able to do it four days a week to support one day in the classroom (perhaps as a voluntary helper) then that might have been a workable combination but unfortunately the need was for full-time, five days a week.
    You mention me being a traveller - actually I don't think of myself as one though perhaps you do! The 12 months here and 18 months in India has allowed me to scratch the surface of the culture a little more than being a tourist might. But I'm still searching for somewhere where I will have greater impact so maybe you're right! I hate the idea of being a "voluntourist" though...
    Glad you're enjoying my photos - I enjoy taking them and sharing :) There's so much of interest surrounding us wherever we are!