Much of Now Teach’s inaugural annual conference—in which our two existing cohorts of NT participants came together to share thoughts, ideas and plans for the future with those who are starting their training this autumn—was concerned, as you might expect, with what it feels like to go from an environment you know well and are confident in, to one where you are very much the novice. Of course, any one starting out on teaching training has something like this feeling, but for Now Teachers, who are often leaving professions they have mastered, it is even more of a shock to the system.

Getting the balance right between managing participants’ expectations of life in the classroom, and ensuring they are adequately prepared for the challenges ahead, without scaring them so much they don’t come back at all, is a fine art, but one we think is worth attempting. From its beginnings three years ago—when Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway decided she wanted to do something very different with her life—Now Teach has never been anything less than honest with our participants about what school life can be like, and particularly how demanding it can be for those who are making the move into the classroom later in life and with significant career experience of something different.

So we started with a session where members of our 2017 and 2018 cohorts discussed their lows—which included some spectacularly poor behaviour and a realisation that some professional skills, no matter how good, just aren’t transferable to the classroom—to their highs, which can be summed up as the deep satisfaction of seeing their pupils get better in their subjects at the same time as feeling themselves get better as teachers.

Throughout the day, in this session and others, Now Teachers who have made the journey to Qualified Teacher Status discussed when and how to deploy their own experience beyond the school. That is one of the things we at Now Teach believe is most valuable to schools about our participants: whether it be a ready-made link into careers guidance from a previous firm, a plethora of exciting stories about a job students had never ever realised existed, or just excellent knowledge of the art of a firm handshake, schools can benefit from Now Teachers’ previous lives.

But the whole school system can benefit too. Many of our participants have given up high-powered jobs, senior leadership positions, or the prospect of cosy retirements, to come into the classroom. If the education sector cannot retain them, given that level of enthusiasm, then it has a serious problem. And our participants make clear there are things that, looked at with a practiced eye from outside the profession, seem very odd about teaching. One particular issue we have been looking at closely is the provision of flexible working, which is par for the course in many of the jobs from which Now Teachers have come and which many of them are taking advantage of now. The conference was also the occasion for us to launch our new report with the charity Timewise on the barriers to flexible working in schools, which you can find here.

We were delighted to welcome a number of guest speakers across the day, from subject associations who were able to help our new cohort orientate themselves as experts in their subject even as they prepared to be novices in the classroom, and our closing conference key note was from Bobby Seagull, erstwhile University Challenge contestant and occasional BBC presenter but, fundamentally and throughout all that, committed teacher in his home neighbourhood in Newham. His passion and enthusiasm for the craft of teaching was exactly the right note to end our conference and, for the 2018 cohort, the bridge to their graduation, where the final speech of the day came from Ann Mroz, editor of TES, who argued forcefully for the fundamental importance of teaching to our society—reminding us that, even in the depths of the Second World War, both the United States and the United Kingdom had found the time to pass landmark education legislation. There could be little better way to conclude a day committed to the power of teaching and the importance of past experience.

Congratulations to our graduating cohort, and good luck to all Now Teach participants starting their training in September!