Farewell fast cars, hello children

Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession because of stress and relatively poor pay. But that does not stop a determined trickle of people who quit their jobs, some of them highly paid, to take up the rewards of teaching
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The Independent Online
Rob Cooper, 46, used to be a director on the board of a leading advertising agency with a salary of pounds 65,000 plus BMW and perks. He now- drives a Peugeot 106 and earns pounds 22,000 a year teaching business studies at Trinity School in Belvedere, Kent. His wife, Beatrice, a doctor, has also recently gone part-time. They have two children, Ben, 13 and Sophie, 10.

I had to replace the exhaust on my Peugeot last weekend - it's the first time I've ever paid for anything to be done on a car, and the bill came as a bit of a shock.

When I left advertising seven years ago it was still going through the boom time, and it really was a case of working hard and playing hard, with long lunches, perks, all expenses paid and a great deal of disposable income. My salary peaked at nearly pounds 100,000 when I was working in Singapore. It was glamorous and it was good fun. But once you've had all that it loses some of its value.

I don't know whether it was the male menopause, but I started re-evaluating what was important in life. It's a question of priorities, and to me the money side was not as important as things like spending time with the family. And I was surrounded by people who said I was wasting my time in advertising and not doing anything worthwhile with my life.

I originally left the advertising agency in 1989 to set up a company with two colleagues to develop our own projects, one of which was publishing books. It involved going into schools to get feedback. I found I really enjoyed standing in front of a class, seeing the enthusiasm and the motivation of the children. I decided to go into teaching because I really wanted to do it.

But you can't just throw away 20 years; after all, I got a lot of pleasure out of the commercial world. Now I'm able to select what I get involved with and do it for fun; I'm involved with a travel company and various publishing projects, but 95 per cent of my time goes into teaching.

Given the pressures in advertising I think I work less hard now. The day used to finish at about 9pm, sometimes much later, often after an evening socialising with clients or colleagues. Now the days can be long but they're broken up because the classroom closes at 3.20. And there are three months' holiday; before I could never even take four weeks.

It's a different kind of pressure now. I used to have more control over my daily routine, so that if I was having an off day it was possible to shift things around. In teaching you can't have an off day because you're constantly performing, every hour of the working day. That gives it a stress all of its own.

When they found out about my decision some people thought I was having a nervous breakdown, others were full of admiration that I'd got out. On the accepted standard going from a company director to a teacher is a drop in status. But in some people's eyes I'm now on a little pedestal, because advertising people sometimes have a bit of a dubious reputation.

I think you've got to be a bit crazy to make any dramatic change in your life. And there is a risk. When I applied for over 40 teaching jobs and got only one interview I began to think that maybe I hadn't made the right decision. Fortunately I got this job.

I've recently been made responsible for the school's industry links programme. Making links with business is what I used to do all the time and I get a far more positive reaction from cold calling now that my first words are "I'm a teacher at Trinity School". I've organised projects with Pizza Hut and Eurostar, and started a school bank. I'm sure my commercial experience benefits the pupils.

My wife is very happy with the new arrangement. We have tried to maintain some aspects of our old lifestyle, which has meant reorganising the finances and borrowing money against the house. Wining and dining is not a thing of the past. but it happens less often.

I think my children preferred some aspects of the previous existence - it comes down to things like the car. But the up side is that I spend far more time with them. And as a family it really is more fun. I've genuinely no regrets.

From big numbers to little people: Jo Weeks, 33, worked as an accountant and as a charity administrator for five years before training to be a teacher six years ago. She now teaches 5 to 7-year-olds at Finstock School, near Witney, in Oxfordshire.

When I left accountancy I went to work as a financial consultant to a charity in Zambia for six months. I discovered that what I really enjoyed was teaching people accounting.

Although I was competent, I never felt that I had a particular flair for accountancy and I realised that it was never going to be a tool that I could use without thinking about it. What's so nice about teaching is that a lot of the expertise I have now is an unconscious tool.

The work I used to do was interesting, but it didn't take into account all the things I was interested in. Teaching does. It isn't only academic, there's the artistic and psychological sides as well as the administration and the financial side. Working with little ones is the most enjoyable thing of all. There are so many new things happening all the time that it's impossible to get bored.

My present job is one of the least stressful I've ever had. I think that's because of the people I work with rather than the job itself. It's not hard work, but that's because I feel I'm good at it, and I enjoy it so much, and I think if you're good at something you find it easier.

But I tend to look back with a rosy view and forget how difficult teaching was in the first year. I found classroom control and getting children's attention terribly worrying. I'm much more confident now.

I enjoy the administration and paperwork, which causes a lot of teachers difficulties, simply because it's something I was trained to do. The financial side doesn't hold any terrors, either.

I have never met anybody who has not been terrifically supportive and genuinely interested in what I've done; a lot of people say what a great job they think I'm doing.

For me the salary is not a problem, but that's only because my husband and I are not dependent solely on what I earn. It would be extremely difficult if I was the only breadwinner.

Banking on a more fulfilling career: Nick Langley, 32, worked on financial computer systems for the merchant bank Kleinwort Benson for four years, and then under contract to the Midland, before he went into teaching five years ago. At its height his salary was pounds 1,000 a week. Nick took his PGCE at the same tine as his wife, Theresa, who gave up the Civil Service to become a teacher. He is currently teaching in Canada on a year's exchange and will return to Rush Green Primary in Abingdon in September.

I was happy working in the City. I really enjoyed the lifestyle and there was a career progression there if I had wanted it. But the novelty wore off. I also had a bit of a problem with some of what was going on; there were a lot of silly salaries and I didn't think a lot of the money was justified.

I wanted a job that would be more rewarding. Having worked on play schemes during university holidays I knew I enjoyed working with children. I chose primary teaching because I liked the idea of having a class of children to form a relationship with, and I wanted the diversity of teaching different subjects. I like the personal freedom of teaching, which you don't necessarily get in a big company. You close the classroom door and get on with it and there's no one looking over your shoulder.

Although I knew my salary would halve overnight I didn't want to let the money stand in the way; it would have been sad if that had stopped me doing a job I wanted to do.

Some friends thought I was mad, but a lot of people said they respected me. I work harder now than I did then, although overall the hours are similar. In banking you would get a rush of busy times when 12-15-hour days were common. You don't get that in teaching, but it is much more stressful.

You can never have a cushy day in teaching. In my other job deadlines a month or two ahead meant if you didn't feel 100 per cent, you could shuffle papers.

I don't regard it as a drop in status, although I'm sure people react differently to me as a teacher. I prefer the status of teaching; it shows more spirit. People know it's not an easy job.

Every teacher I've known gives 110 per cent, whereas in merchant banking a lot of people are in it for themselves. Teachers aren't money-motivated.

In some ways I do miss my last job. I miss the computing side and the perks - the subsidised mortgage and loans. But I don't have any regrets.

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