Teacher Developer Teacher
Planted December 12, 2020
I was convinced I had a job for life. I’d moved from Belfast to Brighton in 2004 to start my teacher training and this was it. Yeah, I’d heard how many careers people of my generation are likely to have in a lifetime but that all seemed to be for other people.
Over the next 12 years, I had a variety of different roles in education but the core was still Maths teaching. I don’t think I had the exact same job for more than a year.
I worked in 4 different schools. I ran a department, was responsible for whole staff training, worked across the city with other Maths departments, helped lead a school and worked with some national Maths organisations.
There were lots of things I loved about teaching. But eventually, the fact that I was running almost entirely on adrenaline caught up with me. Added to that, my coping mechanisms for managing my PTSD (mostly over-work and over-achieving) stopped working.
I had a break-down and I left teaching. I stopped being a teacher.
It gradually became clear I wasn’t going to make it back to the classroom. My anxiety and depression sky-rocketed and spiralled. I’d never dealt with these before but when they came they wiped me out.
Like most teachers, my whole identity was wrapped up in my job, so this was even more destabilising. My American parents came to visit England in the midst of this and we went to stay with them in a town house in Kensington. My startle reflex was on high alert - a horn beeping or a door slamming shut my whole body down.
Our boys were very small at the time, my wife was carrying a heavy load of small children and sick husband. But we felt safe and loved and cared for by these two people. They planted seeds of hope and possibility, of support and care.
Have you thought about doing a bootcamp?
I hadn’t. I was a teacher. I was going to force myself back to a classroom. Even as that possibility seemed more remote, I was more determined to make it happen.
But that seed grew, I investigated and decided to try. I applied for the Code Institute and began their remote bootcamp.
I’ll be honest. It was okay. My big takeaway, the thing I’m most grateful for, was the mental map I finished this course with. I knew where all of my previous learning fit in.
I’d spent most summer holidays reading books on the latest programming languages and working through the exercises. I’d built Linux servers as a kid, set up LAN networks for Command and Conquer as a teenager and wrote small programs for my students when I was a teacher. Not much of what I was learning was brand new but finally it was coherent and fit together.
After the bootcamp, I knew I didn’t want to commute to London (over an hour on the train) and that I wanted to work for a company whose values I respected.
Looking around, I found two and got a job at one of them.
This worked out amazingly well. I felt very fortunate to work at Cogapp and learnt so much. Working with the GLAM sector (Galleries/Libraries/Archives/Museums) fit my educational interests. The atmosphere felt human, the colleagues friendly and skilled, the projects interesting and useful.
I’d made this transition but realised I now wanted to test my entrepreneurial skillset. I wanted more autonomy and freedom, I wanted to be able to work from my shed-quarters. My PTSD was more under control but there were still times I couldn’t leave the house. So, I decided to go freelance - sort of.
I ended up only working with one client, SpinUp, and after a while became a partner in the business. We build digital prototypes rapidly and help clients test their ideas with users and investors. It’s a lot of fun.
At the end of 2019, I reached out to Joel Hooks who runs egghead with his business partner, John. I’d used some egghead resource before and have really enjoyed them. Joel had been talking about Learner Advocates - people who engaged with the egghead resources in public - and that sounded like a perfect fit for me.
I ended up watching a lot of egghead content, writing notes, keeping logs and giving feedback. I soon realised that I wanted to actually create some content myself. Maybe those 12 years of classroom teaching weren’t wasted?
Over the upcoming months, I work alongside Zac Jones and Lauro Silva to create first individual lessons and then a collection of lessons. I learnt about making effective screencasts, improved my blogging consistency and found more ideas from my work.
I then took part in a Course Building learning cohort and got more insight into how egghead think about and build out courses. Amazingly, it fit really well with my believes and practices around pedagogy back in the classroom.
egghead lean heavily on Understanding by Design a backwards approach to planning which defines the outcomes before the lessons.
- What skills would someone have at the end?
- How would they be able to prove to themselves they had understood the concepts?
- What transferable skills could be emphasised?
- How could this be broken down into single lessons?
The weekly meetings were fun, lead by Taylor Bell and Lauro. Discussions with other instructors around focused topics. Sales Safari training, Will Johnson leading on marketing, John Linquist leading on screencasts and a clearer idea of the course I was going to record.
I’d been working on a client project that we were building using WordPress as a headless CMS. Looking around, I couldn’t find many resources to help with this so thought that could be a good course topic. After a lot of working on expanding and narrowing the scope, getting more specific and planning the lessons, doing dry-runs and recording the videos, in December the course was launched.
The course is live now and you can learn from it here.
Back to being a teacher again
As the course launched, I started reflecting on how I’d returned to my roots - teaching. It turns out that the bits I loved about teaching could very easily be applied to adult teaching.
I don’t have to develop curricula shaped by tests, I don’t have to manage groups with people who don’t want to be there or intercede with colleagues on students behalf. I don’t have to work within authoritarian structures or present a filtered version of my personality.
I do get to help people achieve their goals. I get to explain complex topics as simply as possible (but no simplier). I get to learn new skills and share that learning with others. I get to be excited about knowledge. I get to be part of communities that have others excited about learning and growing.
I’ve got lots of ideas for the next courses I want to work on. I’ve started Sales Safari and the Understanding by Design planning.
We’ve got lots of exciting projects lined up at SpinUp.
The next year is going to involve both of these - teaching and developing, doing and learning. SpinUp continues to provide lots of teaching ideas and it’s fun to work on new projects.
I started in 2004 being a teacher, convinced I’d found a job for life. In some ways, I did. Teaching is a huge part of my identity and skillset, even when I’m not practicing it in a school setting.
I’m in my late 30s. Who knows where I’ll be in 5 or 10 years? I don’t. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be coaching or teaching in some form, even then.
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