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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ireland

An idea, an adventure and a change of career

I am Alice, figuratively speaking of course (my real name is Dawn) but the story of the creation of Distinctly Individual and Alice in Wonderland have many similarities; from the crazy characters who have “helped” me on my way, either through kindness and advice or through rudeness and negativity. Much like Alice in Wonderland not everything is as it seems.

Ultimately leaving Coventry University with a degree in Fashion I wasn’t ready for the “real world” (whatever that is). Education was the only thing I knew really, other than a few months in a call centre and a part time job in M & S. So, teaching seemed like a good career choice, not everything is always as it seems, little prepared I fell down the rabbit hole. Feeling much like Alice during my training, I was lost, not myself and had a constant feeling of feeling lost, in a world that was not quite right. During interviews I was questioned why teaching, by friends I was questioned the same and at the time I wasn’t sure, but graduating into a society where you can’t even get an internship (or some companies asking you to pay them for the experience). I just wanted a job and teaching seemed like something that had respect and a career, the conventional route as that was the only way to go that seemed acceptable both to myself and other people. So I completed my course and found a job!

In my “proper teaching job” "we’re all mad here," is bandied around by many people. If you stop to think for a while it can be taken in many ways, mad with insanity or just generally mad and angry which teaching over long periods of time seemed to make people. This generally applies to most people I encountered, teachers consider themselves to be mad for being in the job, pupils are mad (in all senses, especially teenagers), which in turn makes the teachers mad (angry), the cycle goes on and on in various forms. I fought along the teaching path believing that “we’re all mad” and that was just normal, as much as people say: "we're all in the same boat" but just as tolerance for madness is relative so is your tolerance of sea sickness for the record. (Just for the record, it isn’t normal, it wasn’t normal and it shouldn’t be normal).

For me teaching could be described by the Dutchess as:

There are many analogies for teaching, but imagine you are on an endless treadmill, not allowed to slow down or stop. As for progression to get a promotion you must run faster.

One colleague once put it I wasn’t myself:

It was true, I started out teaching with high hopes, realistically I wouldn’t always have wonderful students but the school would support me when needed, and I would eventually be respected and have a purpose, I would progress, my career would develop, I would make a difference. I would even have some time in the “school holidays” to be creative. Instead the reality was if I broke down my hours I earned less than minimum wage, when I wasn’t in school I was thinking about it, about pupils, their problems were my problems, instead of teaching I was forever marking work or moving rooms (moving a textiles room is not easy work). As much as I didn’t want to believe it, during my fall down the rabbit hole I had ended up in a career which was making me really unhappy. It had slowly changed me, so slowly it was hard at times to notice. I became anxious I worried about deadlines, observations, I lost confidence in myself and my abilities, I was made to feel like I wasn’t helping anyone and it was made clear to me there would never be progression for me in the school in which I worked. I lost my free time jumping through hoops for “my career” when I realised: I hadn’t used my sewing machine properly in nearly 3 years!

Like the Cheshire cat suddenly appearing in a tree asking for advice on which way to go, I knew I had to find my “muchness”, one thing was for certain, I didn’t want to walk down the dark path I had fought through. Giving advice to a pupil one day I said "Nothing changes unless you do" as Alice would say "I give very good advice but seldom follow it," it was time I started following it. In a search for my “muchness” and taking my first step in my new adventure I created Distinctly Individual, creating alternative fashionable clothes, which will never be mass produced, never constructed in a sweatshop. Not just following a career because it is the easy route, the done thing, and what people expect you to do. Creating items I am proud of. Creating items because I want to! As Alice would say “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then” but adding Dawn’s “nor would I want to”


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