I’m a teacher, but I was also once a student. I knew what I wanted to be – until I got Careers’ Advice in school.
What’s my story?
In the 1990s I was in Secondary School. I was doing pretty well, too. I was predicted a pile of As and A*s, I took Latin in my lunchtimes, I read voraciously and I had a real and genuine interest in two very specific careers – Archaeology and Marine Biology. My parents were (are) supportive and I was given every opportunity to believe I could pick my path, choose my career, and be whatever I wanted to be.
In 1994, I took a computer test (fancy!) and had to input all kinds of details: my interests and hobbies, my predicted grades, my career goals and, of course, my personal information. At the end I was presented with a printout which said I would be well-suited to a career as a florist, or as a nurse.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is this: I hadn’t expressed any interest in either of these careers. Neither of the jobs matched my attributes or interest. They did, however, match my gender. In the 1990s, this is what girls did – they became nurses or florists or teachers or teaching assistants. So I went to the Careers’ Office, presented my information, and asked for pathways into the careers I wanted. But again, I was presented with a number of gender-specific careers that did not match my interests.
At no point did my collection of predicted high grades flag up ‘surgeon’ or ‘botanist’. Despite my achievements, I was repeatedly marked for ‘female’ careers which didn’t account for my academic ability, my interests, or my temperament.
What happened next?
What often happens next – I lost my direction. I didn’t know how to pursue what I wanted, the avenues meant to guide me instead tried to push me down different paths, and I couldn’t see how to get where I wanted to be. Instead, I looked around at what people I knew did for a living. My mother was a teacher. Her mother was a teacher. My uncle was a teacher. My granny was a supply teacher. All the teachers in my school were… teachers. I took a degree in English Literature because I LOVE it, and then the only thing left to do was to become a teacher, so I did. I was surrounded by ‘typecast’ women, and that led to my lack of horizon. You can’t be what you can’t see. Marine biologists were invisible. Teachers, nurses, florists were everywhere.
I love my job.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being a teacher. I love the ‘spark’ moments and the relationships with students. I love teaching my favourite subject. I love chatting to parents. I love my colleagues. But… it isn’t my dream. I’m good at it, and I’ve been doing it for a long time now, but who knows how much I’d have loved Archaeology? Or Marine Biology? Or Forensic Anthropology? Or the million other career opportunities that could have been opened up, if the Careers Guidance I was given way back in the ’90s took account of who I am and what I’m good at, rather than statistical evidence about girls from rural Shropshire in the 1990s.
Why does this matter?
This matters because every day I encounter students who contain a whole world of possibilities – and they know nothing about them. They can’t be what they don’t see, so they dream small and don’t pursue what they really want – or even KNOW what they really want. Careers Guidance is a million times better now, but they’re not mind-readers, and they can’t invent a dream job for every student. Unless you have an ambition, how will you know what you could be? That’s why 1001jobs is so important to me. I want not just my son, but ALL children to have a dream, a goal, and the methods to pursue it and make it real. I want them to be able to go to Careers Guidance and say, ‘This is what I want to be’, and have real proof that it’s possible, it exists, and it can be their future.
You can help make this come true. By showing kids what you do for a living, you’re opening up a whole world of possibility for them. No matter what you do for a job, there will be a child out there who’s never heard of it, or met someone like you, or who has never seen it in the light you bring to it. Why not make us a video? Light a spark in someone. Help them to fly.