Becoming a Teacher Was Not As Straightforward As I Thought It Would Be: Jack’s Graduate Story
As graduation season looms and thousands of students enter “the real world”, every day this week we’ll be hearing from graduates about what life outside of university is really like for them.
In this series, we’re going to be shining the spotlight on what it’s really like to be a graduate in 2016. Each story will highlight the difficulties, disappointments, surprises and moments of happiness that come with being a recent graduate.
This is Jack’s story. Jack ruled out a career in journalism to pursue a more stable job in teaching, but it’s been more complicated than he hoped.
Jack: I graduated nearly two years ago with a 2:2 in History of Art and moved back in with my family in Suffolk. I thought I’d move out again pretty soon after, but I’m still living at home two years later. A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t do a “proper” degree, but luckily I wanted to be a teacher, which just required a degree, not the degree.
In the grand scheme of things, what I actually studied at uni has been pretty worthless. I don’t think that’s uncommon for humanities students though. In our case, generally, you just need to be able to show a potential employer that you can hold your own studying something at degree level. I’m almost disappointed that there was barely any discussion about my degree during my PGCE interviews, obviously they weren’t interested in how much I know about Palladian architecture…
Journalism is aggressive, and I didn’t think I would be tough enough to do it.
People I knew at uni joined societies that would give them relevant experience for a career. I accidentally became the photo editor of the student newspaper, which, obviously, isn’t at all related to teaching. It was full of budding journalists, many of whom did actually go on to become journalists. I somehow got sucked into this windmill of energy and it was amazing. I toyed with the idea of working in journalism, but I realised that there are already enough photographers who are a) more creative than me and b) could also write far better than me. Journalism is aggressive, and I didn’t think I would be tough enough to do it. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I guess I felt I had to be realistic. It ultimately came down to my need for a stable income in a job I enjoy. I love photography and I still take photos, but I don’t have what it takes to carve out my own piece of the industry.
On the plus side, I have actually achieved what I intended to do. What I failed to fully appreciate when first leaving uni was the process of doing that. I was hoping to start my PGCE a year after I graduated, but things didn’t go to plan. I ended up working in a shop while doing work experience in a school to then be able to get a job as a teaching assistant. Once I had managed to get a job as a TA I’d then have enough experience to apply for the course.
But the teaching assistant job was only 30 hours a week, 39 weeks a year. I worked it out I was taking home about £600 a month, or £7.10 an hour. Even with the shop job on the side and throughout the summer holidays, I still wasn’t even close to earning enough to be self-sufficient financially.
My parents never outright gave me money for anything, but they allowed me to live with them for free as long as I was working hard at teacher training and helped out on the family farm in my spare time. I’ll always be grateful to them for supporting me through the process, as I know that’s not something everyone has to fall back on. I might not have been able to get to where I am now otherwise. I’ve definitely had to make the sacrifice of living at home, as well as doing loads of work experience out of my own pocket to get what is, to be honest, a badly paid but necessary job.
I still wasn’t even close to earning enough to be self-sufficient financially.
Now, almost two years since I graduated, I actually feel quite relaxed for the first time in a long time. I’ve managed to get a place at York St John for my PGCE. Bar the nightmare of locating my GCSE certificates, it’s all sorted. I think the course is going to be pretty gruelling, so it’s nice to have some time now to think and gather myself and work out what the heck is going on with my life.
I think the time I spent working in a school was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It massively boosted my self confidence in my future, but it also made me better realise my place in the world. It knocked me down a couple of pegs and forced me to think more realistically. Before being accepted by YSJ I had two unis reject me in quick succession, and another that was actually on the day of my YSJ interview, so it was a pretty gloomy day for me as I travelled up to York. Thankfully YSJ was my first choice. Since then I’ve been feeling much better as I head into work each day, knowing I have that lined up.
If I could’ve told myself anything as I first left university, I guess it would go something like this:
Reality is a bitch. You can plan, prepare and create your whole career in your head and as soon as you start to pursue it you’ll have setbacks. You can never plan for all the stuff that will happen outside of your sphere of control. It took me far longer than I anticipated to get to where I am now, probably because I didn’t do enough work experience at uni, but I’m still proud of the work I put in and it doesn’t help to put yourself down.
I think the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past two years is that nothing will just fall into your lap. I may not have gone about pursuing my career in the most efficient way, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had in the process for anything. And it can take time to get to where you want to be, but it’ll be worth it in the end.