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How a love of teaching helped me connect with others
While not all of us are born to be teachers, there’s no denying it’s a rewarding career for anyone who decides to take on the challenge – especially when doing so later in life!
We spoke with Pamela Woods, the founder of classbunny about why she chose to transition from a full-time lecturer role in the UK to a part-time teaching position at the helm of her own business in Australia. Here, Pamela shares her story and encourages anyone – no matter your age – to try their hand at teaching as a way to stay connected to others in their community.
Tell us about how you first got into teaching.
I fell into teaching; I was working as a freelance writer in television in the UK, and saw an ad for a casual lecturer at Central St Martins. My kids were babies and it was only for one day a week, so it suited my family commitments and writing time.
Eventually I become a full-time senior lecturer and course leader in television studies. I taught for over 10 years, pretty much full-time.
But when my mother fell ill, it was time to return to Australia, to sort out her issues. Also, working for a big university was becoming less fun, so it wasn’t a hard decision. But, I was launching into the unknown when I left the UK.
Was the decision to start your own business when you moved to Australia a difficult one?
It just sort of happened. I hadn’t lived in Australia for 20 years, so I was starting over in my early 50s. I had some part-time teaching work as soon as I arrived but after a couple of years it folded gradually. I found myself looking for work, which when you’re older is always a challenge. There is a lot of resistance out there to hiring people over 50.
Starting my business, classbunny, wasn’t a huge leap, it happened gradually. My main aim was to keep working – but on my terms with flexibility. By now my mother’s issues were sorted out so I had more time.
What does classbunny do and how did it come about?
Classbunny provides fun classes in all kinds of topics. I run private classes for hens’ parties, events and team building. I also run public classes that anyone can attend that are hands on and people get to make things like terrariums, watercolours and loaves of bread! They give attendees a little feeling of accomplishment.
It has been baby steps all the way, now I am at the stage that I have some regular corporate customers that hire classbunny to provide workshops, and I currently have a new pop-up shop to hold public classes.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your current job?
Teaching the workshops is top of the list, but devising and creating new workshops is lots of fun too.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Doing a thousand things at once to keep afloat and running smoothly. I have to learn new skills all the time to keep it running and up-to-date.
In what ways do you feel like it keeps you connected to the community?
I meet hundreds of people through the classes. There is a lot of face-to-face interaction. And teaching is a great way to feel like you have contributed – watching people ‘get it’ or complete a task they really felt they never could is priceless.
It’s also not just about the students, working with teachers who are nervous or haven’t taught before is a great way to keep connected to what’s happening around me. Helping them formulate a workshop is deeply satisfying and then seeing them flourish from there, and teaching confidently and taking on bigger challenges. You can’t beat that.
Do you feel more connected to your community with your job now, than you did in your earlier career?
With the community at large? Yes, I am more widely connected because anyone can attend classbunny classes regardless of age, skill level or ability to pay.
I have always loved working with students and am in touch with many of them still, years later. Teaching casual classbunny classes is great because it is about the enjoyment of learning first and foremost. There is no need to judge or assess the output – it’s a pure relationship.
Would you recommend a teaching role to others in their later years who might be struggling to find direction in their career?
Absolutely! I am always trying to nab people to teach. My oldest teacher was Bill, in his eighties, who was a retired pastry chef and his apple pie class was amazing! We did that as part of an older people teaching skills series of classes.
We all have skills that we can teach, and it keeps your brain active and learning. The feedback from students is wonderful. Having something to teach can help you organise your time productively if the weeks seem to be slipping by.
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