Joe Roberts studied languages and law and is also a keen musician with a passion for dance. He is a language teacher and has created his dream portfolio career combining teaching languages in an environment full of music and ballet. He spends part of his week teaching at Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham whilst also as a Teaching Fellow of the University of Warwick. He describes his career as ‘a dream come true’.
- Hi Joe, we both studied at the University of Birmingham (many years ago!) and met through our mutual interest in music. You are a language teacher and have worked in two secondary school as a classroom teacher and an Advanced Skills Teacher. Tell us a bit about your current teaching role at the ballet school and what attracted you to the role.
Yes, it seems like so long ago now! I teach three days each week at Elmhurst Ballet School and whilst it is a very intense timetable, the students are highly motivated and eager to learn. I teach French, German and Italian to all year groups and because the school is small I am the only languages teacher. At first I found it strange not having colleagues in the same department, however I keep in touch with former colleagues and I enjoy discussing all things languages with them. I also have extremely supportive and professional colleagues and although we work alone as subject specialists, we share many teaching ideas and resources.
- Many may consider this a unique teaching role. What steps did you take to find this role?
A very good friend of mine, in fact ours, Lee, started working in the publicity department of the Birmingham Royal Ballet when we left university. He gave me a free ticket to see the ballet and I was immediately hooked, I even started taking classes on a weekly basis. In my previous school my commute would take me past the gates to Elmhurst every day and I always wished I would be turning into the drive and teaching languages to the future ballet dancers of the world! I used to check the school website for jobs every now and again and then one day I saw that a two day per week post was being advertised. I applied and after a very thorough process of two interviews and teaching a lesson, I was offered the job.
- What were the biggest challenges you faced in combining your teaching career with your love of music and dance and how did you overcome these challenges?
If I am playing in a show or rehearsing for a concert, the week can become very busy but it is just a question of balancing my time. I don’t have this every week so it’s fine. Sometimes you can make an onerous task more pleasurable and I sometimes mark a set of books in my local café whilst listening to music I have to learn for a concert.
- You also spend part of your week as a Teaching Fellow of the University of Warwick. Tell us a bit more about your role at the University and how combining this alongside your teaching job at the Ballet School suits you.
Yes, that’s right. On Mondays and Tuesday I have half a dozen trainee teachers to look after and mentor. My role involves visiting the students and observing lessons with their classroom teacher or subject mentor. I also have to hold tutorials and mark their essays for their PGCE. It’s great to get out and about and be reminded of what’s happening in ‘normal ‘schools- Elmhurst is of course very unique as a school. It also makes me grateful to be teaching in an environment where all the pupils really want to learn and do well. Often languages are not so popular these days and we’ve heard recently in the media about the decline in numbers of pupils studying one at GCSE. I have been lucky enough to teach in schools where the majority of pupils do see the importance of studying a foreign language and in Elmhurst pupils know that they may well dance in a ballet company abroad and they are keen to learn a language.
- What advice do you have for those feeling unfulfilled by their career and thinking about what other options may be available to them?
For me, teaching part time has been the key aspect. It’s a cliché but variety is the ‘spice of life’! Not teaching every day has actually reinvigorated my love of teaching. Let’s not be under any illusions, if you work less, you are paid less, I earn much less than when I was earning my highest salary as an AST, but I am so happy now. I often pinch myself that I am doing my dream job even more than 5 years on! I am certainly as busy as I ever was, but not teaching full time has allowed me to explore and combine other passions. This week I am editing a text book and playing in the orchestra of a musical so it’s all very busy but fun!
Thank you, Joe, it is so inspiring to hear how teaching can be used in different ways, combining so many different passions.
You can find out more about Elmhurst Ballet School here