Both teaching and social work are careers that carry huge responsibilities, job satisfaction, opportunities for career development and the ability to make a difference in the lives of individuals. Nonetheless, there is something about social work that seems to have a magnetic pull for me.
In 1999, while looking after my daughter as a single parent, I started my first full time job as an administration officer in a local primary school and began a social science course with the Open University. A few months later, I applied for a social work assistant role with a local authority, but I was unsuccessful and took that to mean that I should pursue my first love (since the age of 6) – teaching.
Five years later, I completed my undergraduate in education, theology and religious education (RE) at Roehampton University and stayed on to do my PGCE Secondary, specialising in RE. Teaching is a very rewarding career and I had five great years in the profession, receiving a grade one for my teaching and learning during an Ofsted inspection.
However, secretly, I never stopped thinking about social work.
Teaching gave me invaluable skills such as the ability to write well, speak publicly, be assertive and work with children. But I knew that there was something missing.
I realised that teachers are mainly trained to teach and help their pupils to learn and gain knowledge, whereas social work goes the extra mile in seeking to teach people skills they can use to change their lives and move from dependency to independence. You could argue that the teaching profession does the same; however, often children are passive recipients of knowledge, whereas in social work the service user is seen as the expert of their situation, therefore their interaction with the social worker is a reciprocal one. They work together to achieve a goal.
Social work also involves advocacy, which rarely happens in teaching because teaching tends to be confined to the classroom. Teachers might make referrals to other agencies, but social workers are trained specialists who have the skills and experience to detect abuse, advocate for service users and apply appropriate theories. They work with a person-centred approach; something teachers are not trained to do.
Social work places a stronger emphasis on practising with an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory approach. It challenges any hidden assumptions embedded within our thought processes so that there are better outcomes for service users.
Finally, social work, whether qualified or unqualified, statutory or independent, with adults or children and families, entails working with people with multiple social issues such as substance misuse, mental health and domestic violence. There are opportunities to visit and meet service users in their homes, hospitals, day centres and in prisons.
It is for all of these reasons that I left the classroom behind to study a master’s in social work.