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IOE Student Blog


A blog on life at IOE and education affairs written for students by students.


Why go into teaching?

By IOE Blog Editor, on 5 May 2023

A teacher sitting on a desk with a laptop and books. They are reading a student's notebook.

Image credit: Angelov via Adobe Stock.

By Johnny Farrar-Bell, History PGCE, class of 2023.

There was an article in a well-known magazine last September that, just for a moment, made me panic. ‘Why I’ve quit teaching’ was the headline. Not great timing. I’d just resigned from my secure civil service job in the Department of Transport to start a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in secondary level History at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. My thoughts raced. Have I made a serious blunder? What if I’m not cut out for this teaching gig after all? Will I end up an emotional wreck and go crawling back to Whitehall? At my work leaving party, I had well-meaning but ominous conversations along the lines of, ‘We admire your decision but think you’re absolutely mad.’ Even at Christmas, some relatives hinted that they thought I was off my rocker. Why, I imagine they were wondering, had I opted for a life of stress, hard work and inevitable frustration? Didn’t I realise how overworked and underpaid teachers are? Well, perhaps I am losing my marbles, but here’s my manifesto to prove those doubters wrong.

I know it sounds terribly old-fashioned (and pre-2020) but going into a school everyday forces me to see and engage with people and build those things called ‘relationships’. Sure, some of the kids can drive me up the wall, but that’s real life. I’d far rather experience that than a row of inanimate faces on a glitchy MS Teams video call discussing the fact that there may or may not be newts along a stretch of farmland where a railway may or may not be built – which was the sort of soul-crushing interaction I had to deal with every day when I was a civil servant.

Teaching also involves meeting and having an influence on people I would never have come across otherwise. How many other jobs would have exposed me to children from the East London Bengali community every day? What other environments allow different cultures to meet and understand each other in such a (I hope) positive and uplifting atmosphere? Yes, I’m aware schools aren’t all people holding hands and singing ‘Kum Ba Yah’ around a campfire, but they are an amazing opportunity to nurture and inspire young people. Who knows, perhaps the next Simon Schama or Tom Holland will emerge from my history classes?

I appreciate that this all sounds very soppy, but the reality is that no one could go into teaching if they didn’t enjoy their subject. And who can fail to be enthused by the sheer scale and sweep of history? Some of my fellow history teachers grumble that Michael Gove, who set the latest National Curriculum in 2014 when he was Education Secretary, has straightjacketed the subject. (To put the urban myth to rest claiming he wrote it in the bath: he issued me a personal denial when I randomly bumped into him last year.) Yet, despite the strictures of the National Curriculum – which academies and private schools are free from in any case – I still believe the interest that can be garnered from studying history is vast.

Who for instance, could not find the events of 1066 a white-knuckle ride, rivalling anything a Hollywood scriptwriter could come up with? Battles – check, kings – check, invasions – check. What more do you want? How is it in fact, that so many of the films, books and other art forms we love are inspired by events which have captivated us down the centuries? And of course, history also gives us those crucial and all-too-rare skills of analysis and nuance that are so necessary in today’s world of cancellation and no-platforming.

There is no doubt in my mind that History is the best subject, yet I am sure that English teachers, science teachers, art teachers and so on would say the same about their chosen field. Given the chance, my father, a former Maths teacher, could speak at length about the beauty of a quadratic equation. And that is the crucial point: when you’re teaching, you’re always thinking about, engaging with and sharing a subject area you find profoundly interesting.

In a world where we’re all told to be ourselves, to ‘bring our full self to work’, how many of us really feel like we can? In truth, most workplaces increasingly promote a culture of conformity. The beauty of teaching – from my admittedly limited experience so far – is that we don’t need to worry about ourselves, such is the overwhelming need to think about how to get through the day. There are too many lessons to plan, worksheets to print, pupils to speak to. It’s hectic, but the need to focus on things other than ourselves is refreshing.

‘Conquer your fears’ is another mantra of our age. Teaching, for me at least, was a good way for me to do that. For too long, when I was growing tired of the civil service, I put off quitting to become a teacher because I listened to my inner voice which said I could never stand up in front of a class of 30 raucous teenagers and command their attention. Not that I’ve now mastered that skill (far from it), but I’ve been forced to at least try. Some of those fears quickly started to seem less real as the weeks and months progressed.

So why take the plunge? Why not? For a job that stretches, engages, allows you to share your passions and improves the life chances of others, I’m struggling to think of a better option than teaching. Oh, and there’s the long holidays.

An earlier version of this article first appeared in The Spectator on 9 March 2023.

Are you interested in training to teach at Secondary level? Find out more at our virtual PGCE Secondary open event on 7 June 2023 – registration opens mid-May.

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