“My journey into teaching and career progression opportunities”

Andrew Rowlandson, Head 5th Form and geography teacher, Norwich School

On completion of my Geography degree, I applied for a graduate teacher training programme and Aviva’s business management graduate scheme. I hoped the application process would decide which route I should take! I remember the weekend I received offers from both. In the end, it would be my call.

As part of the decision-making process I took advice from friends who had experienced both teaching and corporate professions. It was one deputy head whose advice I could not forget: “I’ve told my daughter she can pursue any career she wants but not teaching!” I chose Aviva.

At the end of the graduate scheme I was delighted to secure the role of Community Affairs Manager. My role involved overseeing Aviva’s community investment projects. Highlights included corporate hospitality at sporting events, travel and working with influential people. Over time, however, despite working with a fantastic team, it became apparent that I was not wholly motivated by these activities or financial rewards. In fact, what I enjoyed most was volunteering on the projects I managed. So, I took another look at teaching…

In Ben Tal-Shahar’s excellent book, The Pursuit of Perfect, he talks about a perfectionist’s ideal career journey being one with the shortest, most direct path to achieving their goals. At the time, this was my mindset. However, Tal-Shahar encourages an ‘optimalist’s’ approach where the journey is not a straight line but more of an irregular upward spiral; while the general direction is toward the objective, numerous deviations are to be expected. When the opportunity came to start my teaching career at Norwich School I took such a deviation.

It felt like I was starting over. I had no teaching qualifications and my past experiences earned me little credit with pupils, parents or colleagues. It was hard to accept that a significant measure of my success each year now rested on the performance of teenagers in an exam room! Yet deep down I knew the skills, qualifications, experiences, contacts and growth-mindset cultivated at Aviva would not be wasted. I needed to earn my stripes in the classroom, to really understand what it was like to be a teacher, before I would be trusted to lead.

I set a rough target of three to five years to develop my classroom practice and to secure Qualified Teacher Status. I committed to doing my best with the small opportunities that came my way. Where I felt my experience might be of use, for example teaching pupils about financial literacy, I offered to help. I also sought to build relationships with stakeholders across the school community. I tried to remain positive. Having jumped from one career, I did not want to condemn my new one too quickly!

A leadership opportunity came earlier than expected. After four years, a maternity leave led to my appointment as Acting Head 4th Form. I had always thought of teaching as a career where, when it came to promotions, decision-makers valued length of service more highly than ‘fit’. This view was disrupted, and I was given a chance on the Senior Management Team. I had nine months to show how I could contribute.

With limited time, I tried to be realistic in my approach. I wanted to be a safe pair of hands but also add value. I decided to identify one whole-school initiative to develop whilst in post –  an overhaul of our pupil rewards programme. At the end of the maternity leave I was thrilled when my position became permanent.

Since then I have continued to focus on one new whole-school project each year alongside my day job. My current focus – staff health and wellbeing.

It is only now that I see how well my two careers have blended with the skills and experience developed at Aviva coming into play. Whilst I have not pursued career progression for its own sake, I have been ambitious to make a difference. I have sought opportunities to use my skills and experiences for the benefit of the school. I want to make a difference and for me, despite its challenges, teaching provides the best opportunity to achieve this goal.

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