Name: Russell Hagan
Location: Southport, Merseyside
Current job: Recently qualified as an early years teacher, having retrained following a 12-year career as a printer. He has almost 20 years’ experience of hands-on fathering; the youngest of his three children is 14 years old.
What brought you into early years work?
I had been working in the printing industry, in a company that specialized in printing CD covers. Because that market was dying, it was obvious that the business’s time was numbered. I suppose the thought of working in early years education occurred to me partly because my wife has done it for a long time – so I knew her colleagues, was often in and out of the nursery, could see what the work entailed and felt like I could enjoy and be good at it.
How important was being a dad to your deciding on this career?
I guess it helped because I was always a very hands-on dad. At the printers I worked long shifts, including at night, which meant I was often around during the daytime, and that meant my wife and I could share the parenting.
So I suppose looking after kids held no fear for me – but it was also just the exposure of understanding the work, which in my case happened through my wife but could, I suppose, come from open days, Q&As with practitioners and so on.
What was your route in?
I started volunteering at the nursery where my wife worked, in between shifts at the printers – also studying for a Level 3 qualification, which I gained around the same time as the factory closed. After a while I managed to get some paid hours, and this gradually increased until I was full-time in the pre-school room, over time becoming deputy room leader.
After a couple of years, I decided that maybe school was the way to go for me, and I got a job as a one-to-one teaching assistant in a Reception classroom. This led to me deciding to go to university the following year to study Primary Education with QTS.
I chose EYFS as my minor specialism, and this reinforced my belief that younger children were the age I wanted to work with. In year 2 I transferred onto the Early Years Education with QTS course; I have just completed my third and final year of this course. So now I’m in the process of looking for employment, ideally as a teacher in a nursery or Reception classroom.
What reaction have you had from colleagues – and parents?
The other staff are not particularly phased by my being there. You might get a few stereotyped comments but I’ve never felt that I’ve received what I’d call genuine criticism. I did find that when I was working in the nursery, I was sometimes getting more support than I really needed – despite my having three kids of my own, they were showing me how to change nappies, for example. But I guess it works both ways too: when I got my teaching assistant job, which involved giving 1:1 help to a boy with muscular dystrophy, I think part of the reason I got the job was that I was a man; they probably felt I wouldn’t have problems with the physical side of helping him, and that we might bond better.
Most of the time, parents’ reaction has been really positive. I get a lot of comments about how lovely it is to see a man doing this work, and how great that is for the kids. And I’ve found that the dads are more likely to talk to me, ask questions and so on.
Early on there was one mother who made it clear she didn’t want me changing her child’s nappy. The management went along with that, and at the time I just thought that was how things had to be – now I would object. Interestingly, I’ve since looked after the same mum’s younger children…I was nervous about it when I found that out, but she’s fine. So maybe she’s got used to the idea, or maybe the management have dealt with it differently, I’m not sure – either way, she seems happy enough.
What about the children?
There’s a bit of a novelty factor with the children – you can tell that they’re surprised you’re there. Sometimes the boys latch onto you, wanting you to play with them, and I’ve found that a few of the girls are a bit apprehensive, but they soon get used to you.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I enjoy playing with the children, and the creative side. When you have your own children and they grow up and become more independent, you miss that. I like to see the children progress – sometimes when they first arrive they’re unsettled or upset, and over the weeks you see them become more confident, and watch them learning things. I remember one boy used to stay under the table – we slowly developed quite a close relationship, and now he comes in really happy every day.
What are the downsides?
Well the pay is not great, but we’ve managed to get by because both of us work. I think being made redundant from my previous job helped, because it forced me into trying something new. Maybe if I’d been able to stay in a well-paid job, I would never have allowed myself to opt into a lower paid one, but because I wasn’t able to I had the freedom to choose this.
Name: Russell Hagan
Location: Southport, Merseyside
Current job: Has just finished Early Years Education with Qualified Teacher Status course, so looking for a teaching post from September 2019
Previous work: Since 2011 he has volunteered and worked in early years settings, and completed his early years teacher training; before this he worked as a printer for 12 years.