On Wednesday night I was interviewed by John Johnston for Radio EDUtalk. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John for what seems like an online lifetime — he was part of that early cadre of edtech bloggers 10+ years ago.
As you can see from the header image on the site, Radio EDUtalk was set up back when my hair was a little less grey! It’s a service for educators featuring regular interviews as well as captured conference sessions for those not able to attend. Educators are also free to upload their own audio.
I’ve been involved with Radio EDUtalk on a few occasions over the years. This particular session was a free-range discussion about what I’m up to at the moment. So during the hour, John and I discuss:
The resurgence of podcasting as a medium
Some of my experiences at Mozilla
How I see the current Open Badges landscape
The ‘digital literacy divide’
Blockchains, smart contracts, and the future of work
It was great talking to John, and I hope you get some value out of listening in to our conversation. The audio should be embedded below but, if not, click here to listen!
This led to the anonymous blogger behind Exit Teaching getting in touch via Twitter for the backstory to me leaving the classroom. I’m happy to share it as it’s something that a lot of people in similar situations struggle with. I hope it helps someone!
1. Why did you become a teacher?
Teaching was actually something I’d actively tried to avoid! My father had been Deputy Head of my high school and I’d seen how busy he’d been. I was in my third year of a Philosophy degree when I realised that I was about to need a job. My dad advised me to do my PGCE as ‘something I could fall back on’. After completing a self-funded MA in Modern History, that’s exactly what I did and became a History teacher. I loved it! I’d often say that if there was a roof over my head and food on the table I’d have taught for free!
2. What was your previous role? What are you doing now?
I taught History and a bit of ICT for six years in total. My last job in teaching was as Director of E-Learning of a large academy. I was there for a year and left in 2010. In April 2015 I made the jump to full-time consultancy after some time with Jisc in Higher Education and the Mozilla Foundation, where I was on their education team.
3. Why did you decide to leave teaching?
I skipped middle management and went straight into senior management. I guess I blagged the interview. The position was in an academy that took over nine schools, including three I used to attend – and the one in which my father was Deputy Head. Some of my old teachers were in senior management with me, and some were still full-time in the classroom. Added to that, I was writing my doctoral thesis at the time and had a two year-old son.
Looking back, there were three main reasons I decided to leave teaching. The proximate cause was that I was asked to spend most of my time around behaviour management-related issues. This frustrated me as I felt I was doing too much of it. Another reason was that, although as a cocky twenty-something I felt that I was ready for anything, to be perfectly honest I could have done with some middle-management experience before taking the role. I was thrust into a position where I was line managing two failing departments and one where the Head of Department had just suffered a bereavement. I was a bit out of my depth and wasn’t supported.
The third reason is that I’m an ‘ambivert’ and somewhat of a perfectionist. While I can appear extroverted in social situations, I need time to recharge – but my teaching style didn’t give me the opportunity to do that. It felt like constantly being on stage. I was burning myself out term after term.
3. How did you leave? What were the challenges?
How it ended was a bit of an anticlimax. I won’t go into the ins and outs but I effectively looked around for anything that would get me out of the situation. I realised that I had to choose between a) staying and trying to make a difference (against the odds) in the area in which I grew up, or b) being there for my family and finishing my thesis. I chose the latter and started a job with Jisc infoNet, based at Northumbria University about a year after I’d started at the academy.
The Researcher/Analyst job I moved into was primarily office-based and I took a £10k pay cut, but there was a good deal of national travel. That was great for networking. Originally, I thought it would be a very temporary measure before returning to the classroom in the next academic year – but that never happened. I finished my thesis, made some good friends and contacts in Higher Education, and realised there was life beyond teaching.
4. How do you feel about work, career and life in general now?
I’m still very much in touch with the teaching profession. Almost everyone in my family is, or has been, a teacher. My wife is a Primary School teacher, some of my friends are teachers, and I still have a large network of people I follow via social media. In many ways, the work I do supports teachers of all stripes. At Jisc it was providing resources and guidance. At Mozilla it was inspiring and bringing people together. Now, in my new consultancy role, it’s all about problem-solving and providing solutions.
The work that I did in teaching in my twenties was unsustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do it now, in my mid-thirties, never mind in my forties or fifties. It may have been the way I approached the profession, but it’s no wonder so many people get burned out. It’s not particularly their fault – it’s the situation in which we find ourselves.
You don’t have to work all the hours and have no social life to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s probably a recipe for being out of touch with society and making yourself into a basket case. I’m much healthier now – I’ve started drinking chamomile tea, going to the gym/swimming every day, and even trying yoga and pilates! I’m calmer, happier in my own skin, and of more use to others.
5. What advice do you have for those thinking about leaving teaching?
I’m asked about this all of the time. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts of all time is one that explores the reasons teachers leave the profession. One of the problems is that moving into a different role outside of the classroom is often seen as a ‘failure’. Another is that, because it’s often a ‘vocation’ that people often go into an early age, those looking to move on aren’t always aware of their transferable skills.
I’ve found that my ability to stand up and engage only moderately-interested teenagers is a particularly useful skill. As is my ability to get things done. Invention is the mother of necessity, so the workflows you develop as a teacher stand you in good stead for getting stuff done outside of the classroom. Planning, preparation, knowing how to talk to external stakeholders (i.e. parents) – all of these are in-demand qualities.
Everyone’s situation is different and so it’s difficult to give generic advice. What I would say is that if you feel that your job – any job – is getting in the way of things you think are important, then you should consider doing something else. If your health (both physical/mental) or your relationships are suffering, stand back and re-evaluate. Teachers tend to be extremely loathe to take time off because of the ‘burden’ they’re placing on others. However, that’s the school’s problem. If you need to take a couple of days to get your head together, then do it. Better that then long-term absence and a cascading series of problems.
There’s so much opportunity out there. Teaching is a valuable and rewarding occupation. But it’s also stressful and relatively low-paid (if you stay in the classroom). Take your time to discuss it with people you know and respect. If there’s a consensus, start looking for something else!
I’m always fascinated by how other people work and achieve the stuff they think is important in life. That’s why I love sites like The Setup and the ‘This Is How I Work’ series of blog posts on Lifehacker and Dai Barnes’ blog.
I’ve decided to start an occasional series that does something similar but includes an audio element (an ‘interview’, if you will) including a little more context than you usually get.
This inaugural post features Eugenie Teasley (@eugenieee), who I came across earlier this year. She’s one of the most enthusiastic, smart, lovely, honest, talented people you could ever hope to meet. And, therefore, the perfect person to kick off the series!
(you can subscribe to the series as a podcast by using this feed)
So who are you, then?
I run Spark+Mettle, an aspirations agency that equips people with the 21st century skills — character strengths, soft skills and networks — needed to succeed in work and life. We primarily work with marginalised 18–24 year olds, but we like involving everyone in what we do. We like co-creating stuff with the people we work with, and Robin-Hooding people’s digital habits to turn them into something productive and meaningful. I live just up from the beach in Brighton with my husband, son and two dogs. And often various Europeans coming to learn English. On weeks like this, there’s almost nowhere better to be. In England.
And how very well are you?
I’m okay. I’m about to go on holiday for the first time this year, which is a big deal. It’s nowhere grand, just a beach in Norfolk. But there’s sea and sand and, quite possibly, sun. And seals. The last ten weeks or so have been a bit nuts, workwise, so it feels pretty exciting. I hate people who talk about how busy they are, which means I hate myself right now. I am so busy. In Norfolk I might go do something crazy, like read a book.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Excel, and we are not natural companions. But I’ve been revising the business plan for a platform we launched earlier this year, Discoverables, as well as applying for various pots of funding. It’s meant a lot of time on trains, in coffee shops, in meetings, with figures and goals and projections dancing around my head. To wind down I’ve been getting myself hooked on House of Cards, running along the seafront, and reading ‘Frog and Toad’ stories to my kid. They are the greatest stories. There’s one called The Kite which is maybe the best story about grit, determination or “mettle” that I’ve ever read.
Have you come across anything/done anything that’s really had an impact on the way you work?
Last year I met a man called Graham Allcott, founder of Think Productive, and author of How To Be A Productivity Ninja. I read his book as soon as it was published and it really motivated me to organise my life better, especially my inbox. It’s a fantastic, fantastic book. Hugely enjoyable as well as helpful. I now like getting my inbox to zero most days. He also was one of the inspirations behind the #Flourish40 experiment I did earlier this year, focusing on real, easy ways to be a better version of myself in a short amount of time. One of those actions included only spending one hour a day on email, and ditching screens before 9am and after 6pm, for six weeks. I haven’t stuck to them now, but I have greatly reduced my email/screen time. It makes me feel human. That and Asana. I work remotely and on lots of different projects with lots of different people, so it’s insanely useful.
Who really inspires you?
Over the past couple of years I’ve been most inspired by the quietly extraordinary humans I’ve encountered in amongst all the noise of start-uppers and social enterpreneurs and such. People like Cassie Robinson, who’s got a super cool project called LondonScape. And then there’s Hannah Smith, who is currently on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust trip researching social entrepreneurship networks in New Zealand. They are people who are infinitely generous with their time, brains and contacts. And then there are the women I work with: Kazvare Shire and Arfah Farooq. They make things happen, are self-reliant and have smarts like no other. I’m also constantly inspired by my own, old ma — who somehow seemed to get the balance between working furiously at what she loved and raising an incredibly happy and secure family in a way that makes me want to emulate her approach day on day. It’s something I am far from nailing.
Apart from your phone, which piece of tech would you not be without?
It would have to be my Nike Fuelband. I’ve had it since November and it’s totally transformed my daily life and activities. The psychology is so simple: I now pretty much always walk to the station, for example, rather than get a bus because it will earn me points. I’m naturally competitive and not naturally sporty, so it gives me an opportunity to compete primarily against myself. Perfect. Saying that, I have one friend I’m connected to on it as well, and if he’s ahead of me then it will inspire me to go for a run. A couple of weeks ago I logged my hundredth run through the Nike Run app, and that made me feel so proud of what I’ve done in under a year (this time last summer I was out-waddled by a duck). It boosts my vitality, my spark, my mettle, my self-esteem, my sense of agency… so many of the character strengths I bang on about as being the components of flourishing.
And finally, who would you like to see answer these questions?
There’s a games guy called Mark Sorrell (@sorrell) who seems like a super smart cookie. I think Cassie Robinson is ace and what she’s doing with LondonScape /Data Store is so cool (@cassierobinson). Dilesh Lalloo is director of Pixelgroup and is always doing neat things (currently working on a Mills & Boon website :-)), @hoxtontweet). And then Pedram Parasmand (@pedagogicalped) works at Teach First but is co-founder of the Skills Lab and always knows the most fascinating things about education, and is increasingly interested in digital ed too. Finally Alison Coward (@alisoncoward) is the queen of creative collaboration and I always love knowing what is inside her head. Oh and Kieron Kirkland of Nominet (@kieronkirkland). He’s doing really interesting and clever things around impact evaluation of digital projects.
Great stuff! Big thanks to Eugenie for giving up part of her holiday to talk to me. If you haven’t already (ahem) discovered Discoverables I really would give it a try. It’s awesome. 🙂