First, I need to say that I loved teaching. Oh, not the phone calls and emails, the endless documentation, the meetings for the sake of meetings, the initiatives carved out to provide someone with CV material that dragged everyone else on board at the same time. Not that part, but being in the classroom, participating in someone else’s progress and development, being there to share the moment when someone first grasps something new, or something complex, sharing time with youngsters who are genuinely interested, or passionate about achieving good results. Teaching is a profoundly collaborative process, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding job. For many years, I woke up eager to get to work.
So why did I quit? It's actually because I felt I wasn’t making full use of my own training and development. Although I enjoyed teaching science, and all the other things I did as part of working in a school (French exchanges, activity weeks, fundraising activities, directing or co-directing the school play), I reached a stage where I needed a fresh challenge. I began to reflect on what I would study if I were young again: it was, without a doubt, French and Italian. I had already begun to take evening classes in beginners and then intermediate Italian, and after a while, due to the lack of available teachers, I found that the only way to continue studying that beautiful language was to start a distance learning course with a college in Edinburgh. This led to my taking Scottish Highers in the two languages, and eventually a full BA course with Royal Holloway, University of London.
With a full time job and three kids, my friends thought I was mad. But it wasn’t like work. I read the books for the literature part of the course in bed at night, wrote essays and did the reading comprehensions and translations during school holidays, or while on holiday, and, little by little, over a six-year period, I completed the degree.
The problem with that was I then felt the urge to use it. I wanted to teach French or Italian, and did, several classes a week, for a few years. Young people are remarkably adaptable and resilient, and none of my pupils found it particularly odd that someone who had taught them French in year 9 was now standing at the front of the A Level Chemistry lab. If they did, they were at least too polite to say so. But schools need science teachers, and my rainbow timetable (of, at one point, Chemistry, Physics, French and Italian) was short-lived.
Unable to settle back into teaching purely science, I spent a year and a half giving serious thought to how I could use the learning I had acquired over the previous decade. No matter how much I enjoyed working with my students, I grew restless.
I hit upon translation. I find this kind of work fascinating, and love solving the puzzle of working out how a message can be restated in another language. I am always delighted to receive and set to work on a new translation, and equally pleased to be able to deliver it on time. But the main benefit is that I am now finally using each part of my background. Much of my work is medical and pharmaceutical, although documents relating to manufacturing, scientific research or tourist information come up quite often too. I am using both language and scientific knowledge, which is very satisfying.
A student I taught in my final year of teaching sent me an email recently, to tell me his exam results. He added that he hoped my new work would “be the change I was looking for”. I seriously hope none of my ex-students felt I needed a change from them. I miss being in the classroom very much. In fact, from January 2017 I will be spending one day a week teaching children who are absent from school due to long-term illness, in addition to my translation work.
So to anyone who asks me if I made the right choice, the answer is yes. I am very happy working as a translator of scientific material. But if I’m asked if I miss teaching then I must be honest. I miss it terribly, and can’t allow myself to think about it for too long. As for the hundreds and hundreds of pupils I taught over the years, how I wish I could tell them that they were a true pleasure to work with, and wish them every success.