Can skills honed on the battlefield transfer to the classroom?
Very much so, says William Mackenzie-Green, soon to be head of history at King’s Hall School, and formerly a Royal Marines Commando
The Government’s announcement that it will offer £40,000 bursaries to armed forces personnel to train to become teachers is welcome news. Former defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “Through leadership, teamwork and problem solving, veterans are ideally suited for a career in teaching.” For the uninitiated, a soldier-turned-teacher conjures an image of an authoritarian figure barking orders at petrified pupils. The reality is somewhat different.
The 2010 government white paper outlined the types of skills and enthusiasm former service men and women might bring to the classroom, such as being calm under pressure. Former service men and women make good educators not because of their good classroom discipline, but because of skills and experiences gained whilst in uniform.
Having spent much of my military career at 42 Commando and done two tours of Afghanistan, my journey towards teaching started shortly after leaving the Royal Marines. After a quick stint in maritime security I realised that working an office job was not for me. I had always harboured the idea of teaching and so, with a gentle nudge from my wife, I applied to do a PGCE at the University of Exeter.
Arriving on my first day as a qualified teacher I was surprised at the number of parallels between a commando unit and my new school. Both comprise a fiercely loyal community, and a number of officers or teachers for whom the mess or common room is the collective sanctuary. Both have a clearly prescribed core role, but those who sign up will spend considerable amounts of time on tasks beyond the call of duty.
Prior to starting the job, and with classroom teaching seemingly more familiar, it was the extracurricular activities that promised to provide the variety. These can include Duke of Edinburgh hikes, attacking forts with the Combined Cadet Force, trips abroad and founding the King’s Young Leaders Award.
In spite of all this excitement, the challenge of excelling as a classroom teacher has, in truth, been the most rewarding part of the job. Unexpectedly, much of my military training was as applicable to teaching as to fighting wars. Although I paid them little attention whilst a soldier, it was only in this new role that I realised the value of my military qualifications.
Training leading to a diploma in leadership and management, as well as certificates in coaching and mentoring, have been incredibly helpful in my new role. As a young officer I gained useful experience dealing with people from a whole host of different cultural, social, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Combine this with the expectation of working long hours and under pressure, and I was unknowingly being prepared for a role in teaching.
According to national statistics, nearly 50% of my PGCE cohort have left or plan to leave the profession within the next 12 months. My own experiences could not be further from this story. This is largely due to the staff and pupils that surround me every day. I feel lucky to be able to work in such a supportive and positive environment.
In my experience as a Royal Marines officer and teacher, both soldiers and pupils respond best to relentless positivity, clear boundaries and quality teaching. I have discovered that teaching was what I was always meant to do and that my years as a soldier set a solid foundation for this immensely fulfilling career.
William Mackenzie-Green was a Royal Marines Commando for seven years followed by three years in business. Aged 32 he completed a PGCE with the University of Exeter. Since qualifying he has taught history and been a housemaster at King’s College, Taunton. He moves to King’s Hall School as head of history in September 2019.