How I went from serving in the army to working as a teacher

Steve Priday explains how life in the armed forces prepared him for the challenges of working in a secondary school. This is from the Guardian…

I joined the Royal Military police as a “boy soldier” and served my queen and country across the globe in diverse locations such as Kuwait, Iraq, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland. Shortly after my 30th birthday, having attained the rank of sergeant, I left the army in search of new challenges, never once thinking that one day I would be teaching in a secondary school classroom.

A short spell as a police officer and a chance email from the Regular Forces Employment Agency (RFEA) however, led to me considering a long-term career in teaching.

I feel that I am a slightly different sort of teacher to many of my colleagues, perhaps due to being unencumbered by years of academia. I don’t believe that it makes me any better or worse; just different. I bring a different skill set to the classroom that I believe complements the great work of my colleagues, who themselves are really inspirational.

Naturally at first the pupils are very inquisitive of my past. “Do you still have a gun? Have you ever been shot at? Have you ever shot anyone?” These questions and my responses: no, yes and yes (although I missed) help break down barriers and form relationships, which are so important when teaching…

Four years on and I am now the head of the public services faculty, deputy head of PSHE and a head of house within the school. I am also very involved with the school’s outdoor education provision, within which I have organised events such as dads’ and lads’ activity weekends to support the engagement of dads in their son’s education, supported the Duke of Edinburgh’s bronze expedition training and assessment hikes.

One of the most important qualities honed during my military career, which I have carried over into teaching, is tolerance. You also have to be pretty thick-skinned as a military policeman sometimes and not take things too personally. The same can be said for teaching. Each day is a new day; a new start. Always look for the positives.

Something that annoys me is the public perception of squaddies as practical but perhaps not very intelligent. It is an extremely outdated perception and one, I believe, that still persists today, despite the overwhelming public support for our armed forces. Our servicemen and women work with some incredibly hi-tech equipment in very hostile situations and environments and do so instinctively with a measured approach and calmness.

The education that we offer our young people in schools should be designed to enable them to cope in all of the difficult situations that life can throw at them. I believe it should be far more diverse than sitting a volley of two-hour terminal exams at the end of a two-year course within a very narrow curriculum.

Back in May I accompanied a team from the school on the Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor. I was the team manager and together with a colleague we trained the students to cope with all eventualities. On the first day of the 35-mile expedition when a girl fell into a swollen and fast-moving river and was rescued by one of our pupils. The girl was airlifted to hospital suffering from shock and exposure but our team elected to stay at the crossing (thus effectively giving up any chance they had of completing the event in the time limit) to ensure the safe crossing of more than 100 young people. Their courage and selflessness was widely reported and we even had an email from Bear Grylls. The skills they learned and the experience they had during the expedition is hugely important to them.

I fully support the notion of utilising the skills and qualities of many of our servicemen and women in schools and colleges. It is important that the right service leavers are supported to retrain as teachers, should that be where their vocation lies. That said, we should not forget the really great work that is already being carried out in classrooms up and down the country by teachers who have joined the profession through more traditional routes.

Steve Priday is the head of the public services faculty and deputy head of PSHE at Bedminster Down School, Bristol.

More at:  How I went from serving in the army to working as a teacher

Did you have another career before becoming a teacher? Do you think it can be a good thing to encourage people to move into teaching later in life so they bring more diverse experiences into the classroom? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments or via twitter…

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