Empathy, Resilience and Organisation – A Career in Education

It’s Never Too Late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Career Zone.

Lizzie Carter is currently working as a Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator at a grammar school and graduated from Exeter with a BA in English in 2012. Find out how she went from primary school teacher, to Ministry of Justice clerk, and back into the education sector. 

Elizabeth Carter, Exeter Alumn and current Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator

“After graduation, I had a ‘roller coaster’ career. I knew I wanted to go into education since being inspired by my former English teachers, and I was certain that job satisfaction was highly important to me. Feeling perhaps too young to teach teenagers, I went straight into a Primary PGCE and became a Junior school teacher for 3 years. This was a rewarding but demanding experience. Desperate to gain an insight into a profession outside the classroom, I took a leap of faith and gained a role with the Ministry of Justice as a High Court Judge’s clerk. When not commuting to London, I travelled across the country with my Judge sitting in on criminal trials and working with esteemed lawyers; an incredible experience. After 18 months, and being a little older and wiser, I knew I wanted to get back into education. So now I have returned to my old Grammar school where I studied for my GCSEs and A Levels (a surreal yet wonderful change of events!).

“The freedom I have in my role is fantastic as I manage my own workload and am moulding the position into my ideal job.”

My current role is titled ‘Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator’ which means I support sixth-formers by resolving pastoral issues, monitoring attendance, organising enrichment events and helping with career choices and university applications. As I have QTS, I also teach A Level Sociology, EPQ and am a mentor for GCSE English students. The freedom I have in my role is fantastic as I manage my own workload and am moulding the position into my ideal job! My days are never the same as it is very much student-led, so it can become quite hectic but brings an enormous amount of satisfaction – something I missed when employed by the court service.

The recruitment process for jobs in education – particularly teaching – is very rigorous with a formal interview, set tasks, a tour of the school (sometimes by students) and most of the time you’re asked to deliver a lesson in which you’re observed. Although it’s a daunting process and you know that everything you do is being scrutinised, you’re working out if the school is right for you as much as senior staff are assessing you as a potential employee. I would say that if you enjoy the day as a whole, it generally means that you and the school are a good fit. In both jobs I’ve had in education, I’ve been contacted on the same day as the interview with the outcome and feedback. This is a standard process in the sector and is real a positive as it means that you’re not waiting by the phone for days on end.

Undergraduate study definitely prepared me for a career in education because I can share anecdotes with students about my own time at university, singing Exeter’s praises in the process. What’s more, completing a dissertation allows me to offer research advice and referencing tips to my students writing their EPQ projects. My second-year module ‘English in the Workplace’ meant that I secured an 80-hour placement in a school. This counted as academic credit alongside submitting a reflective portfolio (which included an essay on the issue of equality in education). I also delivered a presentation to my peers and first-year students to describe my experience. I believe this module was a real asset when applying for my postgraduate course and subsequent jobs.

“I believe I’m a walking example of someone who thought they knew what career they wanted, and still do, but have followed a peculiar pathway before arriving.”

In order to succeed in education, I would say you need empathy, resilience and good organisational skills as working in a school never has its dull moments and keeps you on your toes! More importantly, you really need to have a lifelong desire for learning as this inspires students to achieve their potential and be as committed (as clichéd as it may sound). Working with sixth formers has motivated me to seriously consider applying for the MA Education online course at Exeter; something I would probably never have considered had I entered a different profession.

Ultimately, I hope to progress to becoming an English teacher within the department at my school and eventually gain a leadership post. Everything has come full circle which has been very strange but fulfilling. I believe I am a walking example of someone who thought they knew what career they wanted, and still do, but have followed a peculiar pathway before arriving. Between finishing my degree and gaining the job I have now, I have acquired a range of skills and confirmed that education is the right sector for me by testing the waters elsewhere. Even if I could, I would not change my journey as the life experience – and couple of grey hairs – I bring to the classroom enriches both my pedagogy and my students’ learning.”

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