From the City boardroom to the inner-city classroom

By 21st September 2018 Our Trainees
Robert is currently training to teach maths with Ark Teacher Training. Prior to joining the programme he spent five years working in the City, including 18 months in New York. Over the next 12 months Robert will be documenting his journey from the boardroom to the classroom.

Going back to work after the summer was a little different this year; instead of trying to turn around a failing retailer or distributor, I am in front of 30 expectant 12-year olds attempting to teach them something about algebra and statistics.
Having broken the news of my new career to various friends over the past few months, the reaction of most has been to look at me open-mouthed with incredulity. After four and a half years climbing the corporate ladder in the illustrious world of strategy consulting, why have I decided to take a pay cut and risk embarrassing myself in front of a group of unforgiving teenagers?
There were various push and pull factors. On the push side, the transitory nature of the consulting world had begun to wear me down. You go from one intense project to the next; six weeks working for a cardboard box manufacturer, eight weeks for an outsourced catering provider, four weeks on a private equity transaction in the legal software world. For the first couple of years I learned a lot about different industries as well as the business world more generally – and working with smart and dedicated colleagues to solve difficult problems was stimulating.
But at some point, the repetitive process of handing over a 400 slide PowerPoint deck at the end of the project and moving straight on to the next one was unfulfilling. I never received any feedback from the clients on whether my recommendations had made a difference. The lack of much autonomy and the repeated crashing of a massive Excel file at 11pm at night also contributed to me losing my sense of humour too many times. Ultimately, when I was leaving the office feeling like I hadn’t ‘made a difference’ and waking up not wanting to go in, it was clearly time to move on. Life is too short – I had seen too many unhappy people in their forties and fifties stuck in a job they hated.
So why teaching? I did some volunteering while at LSE at an inner-city school through a programme called Widening Participation. I was stunned by the lack of basic maths skills of some of the 16-year olds. It was a stark contrast to my own school experience. At the time I naively thought that this must be a one-off (sadly it’s not, and I will write about educational inequality another time). But at the same time, I left the school feeling exhilarated about the possibility that I could make a real difference. And it is this feeling – passing on the knowledge that I had access to, to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, can reach their full potential – that is my principal reason for wanting to go into teaching.
Having initially been drawn in by the allure of City life, this desire to get into teaching returned when I had started to get disillusioned with consulting. However, I had multiple concerns – about the pay drop, whether I would be able to handle the kids, whether I would actually be any good; but if I’m honest, a big barrier was fearing what my friends and family would think about my move.
After a lot of soul-searching, aided by inspiration from others who had taken a similar path, such as Lucy Kellaway and the Now Teach programme, and most importantly the realisation that I had to do what made me happy, not what I thought others would approve of (and actually, everyone has been remarkably supportive), I decided to take the plunge. I took a week off work to observe lessons in schools. I knew it was the right thing for me to be doing. Within a month I had applied, received an offer and handed my notice in. I spent the summer term in the school I’m going to be teaching at as a Teaching Assistant, so I have some idea what I’m about to get myself into.
I am joining a school in central London. Although it is located in a deprived area, it achieves extraordinary results thanks to its uncompromising focus on aspiration and dedicated staff. I’ll be teaching kids aged 11-18, initially in maths but hoping to broaden to economics as well once I have completed my first year. I’ll be sure to document my journey into teaching, whether I fall flat on my face or actually manage to teach them something…