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Have you been working in engineering for a while but can’t shake the feeling there’s another career better suited to you? For an increasing number of engineers – hard hat-wearing civil engineers, aerospace whizzes, chemical experts and everyone in between – that second career is teaching.
A world away from the demands of independent research, multimillion-dollar budgets and stakeholder meetings, teaching holds the promise of a dynamic, rewarding career and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of Australia’s youth.
‘For someone who’s finding that engineering isn’t for them or for whatever reason needs to change their path, teaching is a great career change for engineers,’ says Associate Professor Coral Campbell from Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education, who worked in STEM before transitioning to teaching and academia.
‘Science and maths aptitude allow engineers to take their passion into a second career relatively easily because STEM skills are highly valued in schools and education.’
There’s often no reward without risk, and moving into teaching is an increasingly common career change for engineers keen to take the plunge. Assoc. Prof. Campbell says about one in five students enrolled in Deakin’s Master of Teaching come from a science and engineering background, and she says many are attracted to the human elements of the profession.
‘Many people say they’re going into teaching because they want to make a difference and that their career in engineering wasn’t as satisfying as they expected,’ she says. ‘Often that’s because they don’t have a high level of engagement with other people.
‘When you go into teaching, you’re able to build relationships with other teachers and students, and participate in collaborative work. If you’re the sort of person who likes being with other people, it becomes a really satisfying part of your role as a teacher.’
The other powerful lure is the opportunity for frequent change and advancement. You might teach Year 7 science for a few years then shift to Year 12 maths or chemistry, be promoted to head of department or even move into a niche area like curriculum development.
‘The chance to move around the school and teach different year levels and subjects takes the tiredness out of the profession, especially when compared to a corporate career,’ Assoc. Prof. Campbell says.
'Many people say they're going into teaching because they want to make a difference and that their career in engineering wasn't as satisfying as they expected.'
Assoc. Prof. Coral Campbell,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
At a practical level, Australia is facing a shortage of maths and science teachers, particularly in chemistry and physics, so job prospects are good. ‘A lot of primary schools are looking for STEM specialists and in secondary schools there’s always a need for science and maths teachers, particularly if you’re prepared to move to rural or regional areas – where about 28% of maths is taught by people who are not qualified to teach it,’ Assoc. Prof. Campbell says.
Engineering and teaching might seem like totally different worlds, but the good news is the science and maths knowledge you’ve honed throughout years in industry is easily transferred to a school setting.
‘An engineer will have high-level maths knowledge and at least reasonable science knowledge,’ Assoc. Prof. Campbell says. ‘This knowledge is transferable into secondary schools and even primary, just at a simpler level.’
What’s more, project management, the ability to work with different stakeholders and written communication skills are just as important in teaching as they are in engineering. It’s just that your project is more likely to be a science experiment and your stakeholders a group of adolescents.
Of course, changing careers isn’t always easy, and Assoc. Prof. Campbell says one of the biggest adjustments for newbies teaching high school with an engineering degree is confronting students – and even teachers – who don’t share their passion for science.
‘Students don’t necessarily think that science is wonderful, and the other teachers may not like science either, which can be a real eye-opener,’ she says. ‘You have to come to terms with the fact that in those middle secondary years in particular, you’ll have to work hard to challenge students’ interest and invigorate their engagement with science, because by that age they’ll usually be turned off by science.’
School science equipment is also a lot more basic than what you’re probably used to in industry. ‘You’ll have to learn to move back to basic ideas and be innovative in the way you approach teaching,’ Assoc. Prof. Campbell says.
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