The Five Year Career Plan – Where Could You Be? 

Maths scholars have a bright future ahead of them. They have been selected as upcoming leaders in mathematics education and as outstanding teachers in the making. Most will naturally want to progress into positions of leadership, in all its different forms. There will be scholars who will go on to be heads of departments, head teachers, teacher trainers, chief examiners, authors of text books, academic experts, Ofsted inspectors and so forth. Some of these roles will fill you with excitement for the future, whereas others may not appeal to you at all. What is your five year career plan, and do you even need one? 

Your Training Year

This is the first time where you will be immersed fully in the school environment.  It can be a hectic year, but try to picture where you might like to be in the future – do you see yourself as a head of department, or as a headteacher? Whatever you choose to do in the future, you will first need to become an outstanding classroom teacher of mathematics, so this needs to be your main priority.  Speak to as many people as you can, and take up as many learning opportunities as possible. 

Quick Progression

If you do decide that you want to progress quickly up the leadership chain, then there are lots of opportunities for the right candidates.  This is partly down to the shortage of good mathematics teachers, but it is also down to the flexibility of the career structure in teaching, where ability is often prioritised over number of years’ service. 
The number of young headteachers is rising. (For career changers you can read this as ‘young in the profession’.) One newspaper article in 2017 reported that there were 100 headteachers in their 20s!  Many of these will be in smaller primary schools, but it reflects the growing trend for teachers to progress into leadership roles early on in their career. 

Too Much Too Soon?

If you are a talented teacher in a school which is short of maths teachers then you might find that leadership opportunities come sooner than expected. This is why it is worth having a bit of a plan – you may want to spend a good chunk of time fully in the classroom, giving a solid foundation to your teaching career. If you don’t want to be head of department after two years, then don’t feel pressurised when you aren’t ready. Equally you may be ready to move swiftly onwards and upwards.  Your passion for teaching mathematics should always be your priority – even if you are a headteacher who only teaches for one hour per week, your primary goal is to improve the life chances of your students. 

How To Progress

If you do decide that you want to progress within leadership then there are a few bits of advice which should help:

- Choose a school (or move to a school) which rewards talent and ability in its teachers
- Always be approachable and open to feedback – you have to be willing to learn
- Take on responsibility outside of your normal teaching role. Helping with something like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award will help you to get to know staff outside your department
- Seek out a mentor who will nurture you and champion your cause within the school
- Be prepared to move schools when you change jobs
- Keep on top of the latest developments in education. Read journals, listen to podcasts, stay as a member of a professional body, make sure that professionally you are on top of your game
- Think about the qualities you would want in a boss – can you become that person yourself?

It sounds obvious, but nobody likes a leader who is arrogantly dripping with ambition. You need to be honest, down to earth, trustworthy and someone who can inspire other people.  Senior leaders might not do much teaching, but they can have a big impact. Some of the best headteachers have turned around failing schools and improved the lives of thousands of students. If you think that this could be you, then go for it – you will be doing something truly amazing. 

So do you need a five year plan? If you want to be a headteacher within 10 years, then you probably do need some kind of plan. Otherwise you should make the most of every opportunity which comes your way, and give yourself time to explore what excites you the most in teaching. You might be looking at a 40 year career in teaching, so there is plenty of time to try out different things and find out what you enjoy. Teaching suits people who want to progress quickly and also people who want to grow more gradually as a teacher.