Skip to main content

Making a difference in the classroom

  • 26 October 2021

The biggest barrier for Gonville & Caius College alumna Danielle Miller’s career change to teaching was the hunt for her GCSE and A-Level certificates.

Danielle, who was an undergraduate at Newnham and matriculated for a Molecular Biology PhD at Caius in 1995, was unable to locate her long-lost certificates. Fortunately, she had mentors to support her administrative challenge to authenticate her qualifications.

After a high-flying 20-year career in BioTechnology, much of it as Operations Director at Abcam, Danielle has embarked on a new career as a science teacher, aged 47.

Contrary to others in a similar position, she was not inspired by homeschooling in the Covid-19 lockdowns.

She says: “Lots of people on my teacher training course – in particular a number of the men – have said they’d gone into teaching as a result of their experiences homeschooling over the last 18 months.

“I can’t say that that necessarily applies to me, because my children are older (13 and 15) and I’m fortunate they’re bright, capable young women and work independently.

“However, I’ve spent four years on the governing body of my daughter’s secondary school, when I looked for voluntary work during my career break after leaving Abcam.

“I learned a great deal and was massively struck very early on by the capability and the dedication of the senior leadership team in my local state school and how much they cared about offering opportunities to young people independent of their background.

“I’ve had much greater exposure to social inequalities as a governor. It was thinking more broadly about opportunities for everyone and how many doors in life education opens for you. There are lots of extremely talented people in the sector of education and I thought it was somewhere I could go next.”

After 16 years with Abcam, seeing the company grow from having 12 employees to more than 1000, and global travel, Danielle had six months off – during which she became a governor – and then had two years as Chief Operating Officer for Cambridge Nutraceuticals, selling food supplements under the brand of FutureYou.

Danielle left at the start of the pandemic, and then saw an advert for Now Teach, a recruitment organisation which supports those aspiring to teach as a secondary career.

“I went to their website and was really struck by the testimonials and people who I identified like myself, high-flying careers built on sound education backgrounds had decided to go into teaching as a secondary career in their fifties,” she says.

“What they were saying about why teaching was fulfilling and making them happy, I thought ‘that’s me – I identify with that’. It was things like feeling purposeful and useful again, making a difference in the lives of young people, getting that instant feedback from your pupils, and knowing you’re doing that every day. It’s a role that’s extremely people focused, which is where I get my energy.”

My absolute priority is to learn how to be a teacher. It’s learning to teach and being most impactful on the young people themselves in that face-to-face role, building relationships with them, inspiring them

Danielle’s leadership responsibilities in her previous career would naturally lead to the suggestion she could rapidly be identified as a future headteacher, which would take her away from the classroom.

“That’s not what I want to do. I’ve got nothing to prove to anybody else, or more importantly myself,” she adds.

“My absolute priority is to learn how to be a teacher. It’s learning to teach and being most impactful on the young people themselves in that face-to-face role, building relationships with them, inspiring them, to love science. Demonstrating to them the value of education and learning for its own sake.

“That’s where I want to be spending my time and energy, with the young people, the students in school, not with people like me who could be leading an organisation, and definitely not at this stage.”

Individuals need Qualified Teacher Status to teach in a UK school, while a Postgraduate Certificate in Education is desirable and is recognised more widely.

Danielle opted for a School-Centered Initial Teacher Training qualification, which has seen her immediately enter the classroom. She will be awarded a PGCE on completion of the course.

She says: “The course I’ve chosen gets you into school from day one, at least observing. I taught my first lesson in week four. You’re thrown in, but very much supported along the way.

“It’s fabulous to be learning again and feeling like it’s OK not to know.”

Share Share