David Ashby reckons he was born to be a teacher … it just took him a while to figure it out.
With a background in construction, mechanics and sales, he’d always been interested in learning, knowing how things worked and were made, and understanding how people thought.
But it wasn’t until six years ago that he realised those skills, coupled with a desire for a more rewarding job, were the perfect ingredients for switching careers to teaching.
It’s completely fitting that his non-traditional career path has now led him to an innovative, future-focussed school.
He’s also the face of the latest QUT campaign to encourage others to take up teaching.
The Fortitude Valley State Secondary College, which was developed in conjunction with QUT, opened in January this year with 138 Year 7 students and will have around 1500 students and a full complement of grades by 2025.
The college’s students engage with the Australian Curriculum through six courses that align with the school’s vision to create a community of agile learners who are bold, resilient and kind.
David is teaching three of those courses – Making Meaning, Creative Lab and Future Fit.
“The curriculum is integrated into learning experiences across disciplines and often delivered through a project – it’s a very novel design for a state school,” he said.
“I love that my role enables me to challenge the way education looks and that I am supported to try new and exciting ways of teaching. And I like the opportunity to work in the inner city in such a vibrant suburb – there’s always somewhere nice to go out and the staff are very social.”
David graduated from QUT with his teaching degree in 2017 and his first job at a Brisbane primary school included a STEM role (science, technology, engineering and maths).
“I think what I like most about STEM is that it removes the discipline-specific barriers and allows a real-world investigation into something, rather than sticking to a narrow scope working on one subject,” he said.
“I like problem solving, and STEM often provides opportunities to teach through project-based inquiries. When the kids are self-driven to discover answers, teaching becomes effortless.”
Many people think of changing careers, but not everyone has the courage to do it.
For David, it was a leap of faith driven by his desire to find more meaning in his everyday work. He was also keen to achieve a good work-life balance, and have time for his partner and family, and for keeping active through surfing, hiking and gym.
“I worked on construction sites for years and then in sales for years,” he said.
“I was a glazier by trade and, before that, I had also completed most of an apprenticeship as a mechanic.
“But I was looking for something that really gave me a sense of purpose in going to work each day.
“I had experienced the world of teaching like everyone has – as a student. But I really thought I would appreciate the role of a teacher after working in a ‘product’ based industry for so long.
“I wanted a position that would allow me to give back to my community and see growth in myself. Now I get to see growth in my students too. It’s not so much the lightbulb moments that I love most, but more about being a part of the collective community and seeing the change over time.
“In my previous careers, what was valued the most was just getting things done by playing it safe and doing it the same as it was done last time.
“But, teaching at this school, I get to challenge the norms and take risks with new ways of working. And that means my role offers something novel each day. It can be tiring, but very rewarding.”
David has had several influential teachers in his life, including his first male teacher back when he was in Year 6, and his mum.
“She’s a teacher too and she had a big impact on me – even though at first she wasn’t sure about me changing careers,” he said.
“But when we sat down and talked about what I wanted out of a career and compared teaching to other possibilities, she agreed that it could be a good fit.”
David’s mum also provided practical support after he graduated from QUT.
“She helped me out early on in my career by coming into school with me some days to coach me in some technical things, which was really nice to share with her,” he said.
David also got plenty of support from QUT on his journey from tradie to teacher.
“Studying teaching was literally a life changing decision,” he said.
“It was a lot of years since I’d been at school and I needed to build my confidence in my ability to study again.
“QUT believed in me and they backed me with so many opportunities, starting with free learning seminars when I enrolled, to building my practical experience and classroom confidence with teaching opportunities during my course.
“The support I received really boosted my confidence and helped me thrive in my studies and I even received an Academic Excellence Award.
“I also worked as a support staff member at Kelvin Grove State College when I was studying. That was probably the most beneficial thing I did in the early days to build my confidence in teaching.
“I’m still learning today and I value the ongoing connections I have with some of my QUT lecturers and the feedback, ideas and resources I receive from my professional network, including the teachers working around me.”
Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker said the school wanted teachers with a futurist mindset and the skills and ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
“Being a teacher in a new school is a unique opportunity that requires a strong work ethic and a willingness to embrace change,” she said.
“David is one of only six foundation teachers and seven Heads of Department and they each had to demonstrate exceptional relational skills, be driven to build a positive, welcoming and supportive school culture and be willing and able to commit to the school’s development and growth.
“Teachers are key to achieving our vision and we are deeply passionate about finding capable and confident people who can maximise outcomes for students. Consequently, we value bold, resilient and kind individuals who are willing to take risks, constantly asking ‘how can this be done better?’ and ‘what’s next?’.”
David’s advice to other mature-age students considering uni and a career change was to do it in small steps and not rush.
“The journey of studying and the process of the transition was half the fun,” he said.
“I think if I went in just wanting it to be over, it would have been difficult. Getting the support of family and friends is pretty important too.
“My other bit of advice for anyone starting uni is to get involved and take every opportunity you can.
“For example, I helped lecturers deliver workshops to school students in the STEM field which gave me a modelled lesson of how I could implement something similar. There were so many free opportunities to gain hands on experience – they took effort and time but really gave me such a good framework to begin developing my own practice. And each opportunity gave me the chance to network and opened up more opportunities … I was amazed at how much was on offer.”
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