Professor Christina Preston, Chair of ITTE, interviewed her son, Dominic Preston, now in his third year of teaching Computing, who explains why he changed his career in his forties.
Leaving the comic industry and edtech multinationals at forty years old to go into teaching computing in secondary schools has been a big shock to the system. So why did I do this? And why am I, so far, convinced after three years that my choice has been good for me?
After university where I studied publishing and law, I was lucky enough to have worked at some fantastic companies. Indeed, I interviewed well but tended to find that support in more senior roles was lacking.
I loved my first six years in comics but wanted to move into the games industry. The comics industry was fun and I learnt about how to publish, but I was not a ‘fanboy’. I had ambitions to rise through the corporate ranks, so I chose to take an MBA which in the multinationals is really a requirement.
All my subsequent jobs were in technology areas from publishing to computer games to apps. I have an aptitude for technology although, like many of my generation, I’ve had very little formal training in technology. As a marketing and business development guy you have to learn on the hoof from getting it wrong and experiment. I was used to speaking to the team about what was feasible or what had been discovered after the event rather than before. I also found as I got older that I just did not have the same passion for gaming.
I loved the excitement of discovery and being in innovative businesses but found the office environment stifling. I spent long periods of time developing presentations about the products but preferred to be out and about, meeting new people. A socially dynamic environment was important for me and I found that I had a very short boredom threshold.
I was lucky enough to I travel to the United States, Europe, Japan, Nigeria and Mexico learning about different business cultures. Some of my frustration was the global nature of many of the businesses and a lack of true understanding of the disparate nature of the European landscape. The most difficult time were periods when, in fact, I did not have a lot of work to do. I was not good at inventing tasks and, not surprisingly, walking round the office chatting just aggravated people.
Perhaps sales would have suited my character better. But I’m not sure I could have managed the stress in the first place, and secondly I did not have the killer instincts required to succeed in sales.
The other change was that I now had children of my own and wanted to have a more secure lifestyle. The demands of travel and the stresses of working in startups was for people 10 years younger than me. I started to notice I was the oldest guy in the room and the startup lifestyle is was impacting on time I wanted to spend with my family.
A vocation for teaching
A new job as a researcher in education technology for the MirandaNet Fellowship involved me in spending a lot of time in schools talking to teachers and children about the impact on teaching and learning of a range of software.
One particular afternoon in East London I was interviewing teachers about their use of BrainPOP, an accessible and integrated suite of digital content and tools that ranged from animated videos to learning games to interactive quizzes designed for learning and reinforcing ideas, concepts, and facts. Dawn Hallybone, the deputy head of Oakwood School, was particularly perceptive about how to use the software for maximum impact. The teachers were pleased about the level of correlation between what the children enjoyed and how much they were learning. But our research also helped them to see how they could develop their practice even more in the use of videos. Staff agreed with my observation that they were mostly using the videos for exposition at the start of a topic and discussion at the end and realised that in fact these could be used far more for independent learning. They decided to increase the opportunities for independent learning at home and at school.
The recent provision of tablets in school made this strategy more possible. Staff learnt from the pupils’ perception of their most efficient learning and decided to make more use of the games. The IT coordinator realised the pupils would benefit from publicising home access more frequently to the parents and pupils.As a researcher I felt very engaged with the daily issues of teaching and learning and loved the interaction with the children in the projects we were observing. And leaving Oakwood that day I decided finally, this is an environment where I feel very comfortable. I enjoyed the ever changing environment, the interaction with students, the general buzz around the school and helping people learn.
Three years in I am still enjoyed being a Computing teacher. One reason is a fundamental fit with my character and my biological rhythm. I can be on the stage all week without learning any words. It suits me fine that I am now incredibly busy all the time, I certainly enjoy the intensity of the job and the downtime the role offers. The training year, in particular, was mentally exhausting but now as I grow more comfortable in the job I am finding it less fatiguing. So far my vocation to teach has not wavered…
The BrainPOP research can be found here https://mirandanet.ac.uk/about-associates/associates-research/brainpop-research-engaging-pupils-in-learning/Other MirandaNet studies with the edtech industry are here https://mirandanet.ac.uk/about-associates/associates-research/
Also published on MirandaNet mirandaNet.ac.uk