Case study

Maths teacher — John Richardson

After studying civil engineering and an MBA John had a long and successful career in international business. He now teaches maths in a secondary school

Why did you decide on a career change?

I enjoyed a 35-year career in international business. Initially I trained as a civil engineer specialising in the design and construction of foundations. This led me into project management and an increasing interest in the commercial side of business. After seven years I studied for an MBA and then joined an international consumer goods company where I performed a number of executive finance and company leadership roles in the UK and overseas. I lived in Dubai, Pakistan and Ukraine and travelled extensively.

At the age of 55 I retired from my business career decided I needed a new purpose. Teaching had always been an area of interest and a few years earlier, in between commercial roles, I had considered switching and spent time in a number of local schools to observe. I also remembered how important some teachers had been in my own education and wanted to give something back. I came across Now Teach and felt inspired to join their training programme.

Through Now Teach I got a training position at Reach Academy, Feltham supported by ARK Teacher Training.  

How did you get your job as a maths teacher?

Initially I wanted to stay at Reach Academy but on a part time four-day contract. No roles were available. As part of my training, I was fortunate to spend two weeks at Rodborough School in Surrey and I applied for one of their vacant maths teacher positions. I teach KS3 and KS4 maths and next year will also teach GCSE business studies. 

Teaching is a typically female-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

I have always been involved in the development of others and I wanted to give something back and teaching interested me. I also wanted a challenge, to do something new, something that would give me a sense of achievement. The gender mix played no part in my decision to teach, albeit I do notice the majority of teachers are female.

What's a typical day like as a maths teacher?

  • 08.00 - arrive at school.
  • 08.00 - 9.00 - check emails, notices, final lesson plan adjustments and check of support materials. Post lessons online for students working at home. Department check in.
  • 09.00 - 15.30 - deliver lessons. I deliver an average of five hours of lessons a day. Any time not teaching is spent on class administration, awarding merits, demerits, detentions, checking emails, student correspondence through Google classroom, printing materials, lesson review and school duties. I take a short lunch break of 20 minutes.  
  • 15.30 - 16.30 - supervise detention plus online staff meeting, departmental meetings and training.
  • 16.30 - 18.00 - lesson planning, marking, emails to parents and preparation for the next teaching day.

I also work one hour each evening at home and two to three hours at the weekend. I am on a four-day contract and work an average of 45 hours per week. There is normally one day per week where I stay late at school (to 7.30pm) either participating in an online parents evening, preparing or marking assessments.

What qualities are important for a career in teaching?

You need to be enthusiastic, motivated and organised and able to engage with students with different abilities, backgrounds and motivations. You need an open mind, and the ability to review your work and receive feedback. You need to be able to say no as there are constant demands for more. Ideally you should enjoy being challenged, able to cope with a level of stress and change. In my view it is very important to be able to relax in your own time.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Teaching the lessons, getting to know the students and responding to their needs.

What are the challenges?

There's a high workload. A culture has developed over time where it is expected that teachers will work a lot of extra hours just to complete their core tasks. Objective setting and prioritisation in my experience is generally poor. Leadership skills need to improve. The profession as a whole needs to be open to change and seek ways for teaching to become more effective.

You also have little influence over your daily agenda. I found this the most difficult adjustment to make. As a company leader I use to set the agenda for the business and although I worked hard and very long hours, I had freedom through responsibility.

Before becoming a teacher you already had an established career. In what way is your previous work experience useful?

I have experience of life and the workplace, have achieved success and am confident in myself. I am also aware of what skills and behaviours employer's value and can relate this need to some of my lesson content. I use real life examples of how mathematics is used in industry and commerce to engage my students. I am also used to engaging with colleagues and superiors and am able to constructively push back when required.

How did you get involved with the Now Teach?

I saw an article on Now Teach in the Telegraph, watched Lucy's TED talk and then went to an information evening. Their enthusiasm for experienced professionals to enter teaching was infectious. Now Teach provided excellent guidance through the application process, organised the Now Teach trainees to train together with ARK, organised excellent events and panels and have provided support throughout. 

What are your career ambitions?

I aim to teach for five to seven years and seek to increase my teaching of business studies with maths as a subsidiary subject. My first passion is business and in particular leadership. I have substantial business experience in most areas of the business studies curriculum and believe I can inspire students towards a commercial career. 

Tell us about 3 issues facing the teaching sector today.

  • Schools rely too much on the goodwill of committed teachers prepared to work long hours. The key role of the teacher is being undermined by the growing list of other responsibilities and the administration involved. Frankly it is unsustainable to have to work 40% extra hours to perform my core role. There needs to be a fundamental rethink of the teaching model with the objective to release time for subject teachers to focus on teaching.
  • In general school leadership needs to improve and be simplified. There are too many leaders in the school all generating ideas for action and the organisation structure is overly complicated.
  • The attainment gap is not closing and the pandemic has highlighted those cohorts of children who are losing out. The Department of Education, teacher professional bodies and unions need to work together with a common purpose.

What advice would you give to others thinking about changing career?

Never be afraid of change and have the confidence to know you can be successful. However, recognise it is a serious decision so think it through carefully. Take a rational, pragmatic view and don't let the romantic sales pitch of 'changing someone’s life' drive your decision. Teaching is a worthwhile, rewarding role but also has its challenges and frustrations. It's a tiring job and you need to take care it does not exhaust you.

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