Image of Amy Mitchell
Amy Mitchell
Head of Programme Insights

Should I return to teaching? Never say never

Former teacher and Teach First Head of Programme Insights Amy Mitchell explores the question many ex-teachers are asking - 'should I return to teaching?'

Do you think you’ll ever go back into teaching?’ It’s a question most ex-teachers have been asked more than once. And often they’ll reply with a shrug and the words: “Hey, never say never.” But if it’s not never, then why not now? Amy Mitchell, our Head of Programme Insights and an ex-teacher, wanted to find out. 

I trained to teach science with Teach First in 2005. They were some of the most joyful and rewarding years of my life, and when I left to try something new I always thought I’d return. But a mortgage and motherhood has meant I’ve had to think long and hard about the best way to do that. So far, I haven’t found a route back that suits me – but I’d never say never. 

I left to work for Teach First, designing training programmes to support teachers and leaders in school. I was still involved in education on a day-to-day basis, but that question kept cropping up: “So, Amy, do you think you’ll ever go back to teaching?”

I was asked mostly by ex-teachers. People who understand that once you’ve spent your days teaching a class of kids, other jobs just don’t quite compare. I’ve had many conversations with ex-teachers who would love to go back but just ‘couldn’t right now’. They’d say things like, “I just don’t think I could do it,” and, “I’m not sure I remember how to teach!”

One day I was having coffee with two colleagues, Liz Taylor (who had been thinking about going back into the classroom) and Reuben Moore (Executive Director at Teach First).  We were talking about the many teachers we knew who had considered going back into the classroom, but hadn’t.  We got interested – exactly how many people felt like that? Why had they left in the first place? What was holding them back from returning?

50,000 qualified teachers say they'd be tempted to return to teaching

It didn’t take long for us to get our questions on the Teach First radar. We found out there are an estimated 260,000 qualified teachers in the UK who no longer teach in UK state schools. And in a survey we ran in partnership with YouGov, 20% of qualified ex-teachers said they’d be tempted to return to teaching. That works out to about 50,000 qualified teachers.

A big enough pool to make an (albeit small) dent in the teacher recruitment challenge.

We all know how badly we need teachers. I recently read a scary statistic: pupil numbers are rising so fast we could need an additional 11 teachers in every secondary school by 2024. My son started school this week (gulp) and I’ve never felt so passionately about the need for there to be a wonderful teacher at the front of the room.

I’ve watched some friends and colleagues return to teaching over the years. They have a reinvigorated sense of determination, focus and precision in their support for their pupils. They also have a new perspective on both the classroom and the staffroom, and often the ability to prioritise the work that makes the most difference.

And so our project began. We knew it was critical to properly understand what was holding back these ex-teachers, and a research project revealed five key barriers: 

1.    Concerns over workload and a profession notorious for its long hours
2.    Lack of flexibility 
3.    Worries that the school they return to won’t be right for them
4.    Feeling they’ll be unable to progress their career in a teaching position
5.    Lack of confidence in their knowledge, skills and experience

If this pool is to be a sustainable source of brilliant teachers for our kids, then we need to do something about these issues.

And some are solvable with the right support.

With professional development – ranging from policy updates, wellbeing training, subject specific development or refresher content on specific areas of pedagogy – could we build their confidence? With support to find the right role in a school that suits individual skills, experience and career aspirations, could we encourage people with a desire to lead to return to the classroom?

Seize your chance to Reconnect with Teaching

I think we can. And that’s why I helped Teach First design Reconnect with Teaching. It’s in its second pilot year and open to all teachers, whether they trained with us or not. We’re learning more and more about what ex-teachers need and how we can support them back into our classrooms. It’s improving all the time. We’ve already designed an entire online learning curriculum and built a process to match ex-teachers with the school that’s right for them. Teach First are invested in making returning to the classroom as easy as possible, and I’m excited to see just how many additional teachers we can get into the classrooms that need them so badly. 

Next year when I drop my daughter off for her first day at school, I will no doubt ask myself the same questions as I did this year: ‘Will I ever go back into teaching?’ 

But perhaps my answer of ‘never say never’ will become a ‘yes ’. 

If you’re considering reconnecting with teaching, we can support you. This year, Reconnect with Teaching is available for secondary schools in London and the South West, covering science, maths, English, geography and MFL. You can apply all year and start at the beginning of any term. Apply now and you could be placed as early as January 2020.

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