Alison Thomas

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Mid-life escape

"What ground me down was the constant change, the constant acceleration of pace. Seeing things come full circle and being renamed. Change, change, change. Initiative overload."

Are these the words of a disillusioned teacher? Quite the reverse. This is how chartered electrical engineer Peter Howell describes his feelings after 26 years in industry.

"It was disheartening to see quality and engineering requirements being driven by short term economic pressures," he continues. "The treadmill was going faster and faster as we put in more and more systems. You had the increasing feeling of not being in control."

It was an advertisement by Cambridgeshire County Council for recruits in shortage subjects that spurred him into action. "When I made my career choice all those years ago, teaching came a close second to industry. I realised that if I was ever going to do it, now was the time."

Nevertheless, it was a courageous decision and the financial implications were significant. But after many hours of soul searching, quality of life won the day.

Today he is on the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and loving every minute. Four days a week he teaches design and technology at Melbourn Village College, a comprehensive school in Cambridgeshire. The fifth is spent on training.

As an unqualified teacher, he is paid a pittance compared with the handsome salary of £60,000 he left behind. That will, of course, improve when he gains Qualified Teacher Status. But as a late entrant to the teaching profession, he cannot expect to climb to the top of the tree.

"It is not a decision to take lightly and you have to really want to do it," he says. "You also need the support of your partner. 50 is a dangerous age and perhaps I had reached my sell by date. Whatever the cause, if job satisfaction in your current post is going down, you need to find ways of improving your lifestyle."

Today he works as many hours as before, if not more, only now each day whizzes by. The work itself is harder, but he finds it more satisfying. "Subject knowledge posed no problem," he explains, "Learning how to put it across was a different matter. When you have thirty pupils, of different abilities, all needing attention it's exhausting. How do you stretch the ones who finish early? How do you make sure the slower ones get everything done? It is the biggest management problem I have ever faced. In comparison, working with adults in industry was a doddle."

His GTP comes to an end in January and he already has a job lined up. "I am really looking forward to the next ten years," he says. "Teaching has its own stresses, but you are in charge of the bit in the classroom. You can put something in and see the result. If you want to, you can change it next time round and try to make it better. Every so often a pupil says 'Thank you'. That's where you get your rewards."

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Starting from scratch SecEd