Ipswich Chantry Academy teacher reveals how background in retail management prepared him for teaching
For a career not known for being easy on the working hours, a move into teaching for a better work/life balance is something of an unusual choice.
But Chantry Academy’s head of year eight would not have it any other way, and despite the long hours in the profession he gained exactly what he was looking for.
Jake Longhurst, 36, spent 14 years as a retail middle manager at a supermarket chain store.
But after becoming disillusioned with the job and the 2008 recession making it an environment he did not want to work in, his eye soon turned towards a different career – one that was more rewarding.
“I needed to do something different and I felt like I wasn’t contributing in any valuable way,” the Chantry history teacher says.
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“I had done a degree in my spare time, as you do, and done quite well – I got a first class degree in history. I did it for fun to be honest, I did it to broaden my horizons and to leave my options open should I later change my mind about a career in retail.
“I thought, ‘If I’m not going to do it now in my early 30s, when?’”
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He soon enrolled on School Direct salaried – an essential factor being he could continue to earn, albeit on a much lower wage, while raising his baby and his wife was on maternity leave.
It was a gamble when the family was dependent on an income, but with a placement at Chantry and a job offer in hand, he soon settled in for his newly qualified teacher year in 2014/15.
Having made the step into teaching from a background not normally associated with the career, there were challenges and bonuses to his retail background.
“I found it very difficult to move from an area of expertise to being a novice again,” he says.
“Otherwise, just all the things you expect to be difficult about teaching – the relentlessness of classes – they just keep on coming when you’re a trainee.
“What’s helped is the fact I came from an industry background where it was very deadline focused. You had to be very organised in terms of paperwork, so that prepared me quite well.
“In terms of managing the kids I think life experience serves me well in terms of speaking to the kids about what happens to them if they don’t pull their socks up.”
Alongside wanting a better work/life balance, which could not be achieved with the gruelling hours of a supermarket manager, the chance to do a career which he enjoyed and could make a difference in was key – and the inspiration from discussions with the pupils keeps him full of energy and enthusiasm every day.
“If you’re going to be doing a job you’re going to be doing it for 40-odd years and you’re doing it for 40-50 hours a week – it needs to be something you enjoy.
“But there is a nobility in a father or mother going out to work and working really hard at a job they hate to put food on the table. When I decided to go into teaching that was my dilemma.”
Mr Longhurst recognises the stereotypes behind teachers with long hours and lots of admin does hold some weight, but maintains his life and work suit each other better in a way retail could not.
“Teaching is long hours, but not like retail – retail is a beast. I work almost as many hours but now I can fit my work around my life a bit more,” he said.
“If I want to finish work at four o’clock and go home and spend time with my children, I can, then mark after they’ve gone to bed.
“I hear a lot about it being a long hours culture, and it is long hours, but there are other long hours. Retail is a really long hours industry and I think teaching is flexible.”
With a nationally recognised shortage of teachers – particularly in key subject areas such as maths – there has been an acknowledged need to make teaching more appealing to people.
While many use the traditional routes of Teach First or a PGCE straight out of an undergraduate university course, Mr Longhurst says there is more scope to employ people from his own background.
He adds: “I hear things about trying to get people from the armed services and this Teach First business is starting to bring in better candidates. Life experience generally from having done other jobs can only be a benefit. That’s not to disparage people on the traditional route, but if you’ve got a smattering of people that have done other jobs in your school it adds something.”
So has the change paid off?
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s completely changed my life for the better and I genuinely enjoy going to work.
“People think it’s just mad that you’d want to spend your days with 11-16-year-old kids but I think it’s great fun.”