Victoria Schindler on finding a balance between two career paths and achieving equality in the processT
eaching is usually a career path pursued for its emotional rewards, rather than a sizeable salary. Having explored her interests in classical languages, Oxford graduate Victoria Schindler deferred a potential career in law in order to venture into modern languages and linguistics. But investing in an unexpected opportunity that combined both business and education produced a far more cosmopolitan and modern role. Upon returning to the UK after a lengthy teaching stint in Spain, Schindler took the reins of The Kingsley School of English, a specialist private language school, and now one of London’s last family run academic institutions.
Schindler is a school principal, business owner and entrepreneur, teaching niche language courses and preparing international students for specific qualifications. The enlightening aspect of her multi-faceted role is how she has utilised one of the most traditional forms of employment to give it a modern and profitable edge
Age is a pressing issue that comes with owning a business; one that Schindler is aware of yet remains unaffected by. Despite her ability to multi-task in teaching students, running a school and managing a business, critics can occasionally raise the idea that a young woman lacks the necessary sense of authority that is required for a school principal, or even a business owner. But in Schindler’s case, the challenges that running a business presents can be addressed with answers learned from being a teacher and vice versa, thus, she has no issue in reinforcing her authority on either side of her job.
Gender equality however, is something that still requires a leap of progress. Equality, she argues, will happen when men have the right to prioritise child care and paternity leave just as women do. The stigma of family responsibilities being a ‘woman’s concern’ is what holds all of us back, she argues, and breaking through the discrimination men face and sometimes self-impose, is the way to defeat it.
Her specialist career in education proves what can be achieved by those who can multi-task. Read on to find out how if you do what you love, your job (or, as is the case here, two jobs), will not feel like a job at all.
On career choices and the educational system
Classics was a subject that I was really passionate about. When I went to university, there was much more of a focus on the idea that if you study what you love, your career will follow. I was considering law after university; a classics degree was a very suitable foundation for a career as a barrister.
One thing about the British education system is a rather double-edged sword. We have to specialise very early on and once you’ve chosen your subjects, there’s no going back. I chose Latin, Ancient Greek, Spanish and Geography A-levels. I really enjoyed it but if I had wanted to change my mind to become a doctor, I would have needed to take two years to re-take a whole new set of exams. It’s a system which sees students leave school at 18 with a superb in-depth understanding of the three or four subjects they have spent their last two years studying.
"If I were crunching numbers and making bank transfers on top of my teaching responsibilities for someone else, it would be terrible but I find all these jobs motivating because they are for my own business."
This is arguably better than having a superficial knowledge of ten or eleven subjects but it does mean there is little room for manoevre. However, when I graduated, I went to Spain first to perfect my Spanish and to do a masters in translation and interpreting. I found work as an English teacher almost immediately. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed being a teacher and found it very stimulating, no two lessons are ever the same. Luckily, I was able to change track easily as my training in languages was an excellent preparation for teaching my own and I qualified as an English teacher later.
On running the show
Running your own business can be stressful, you have no one else to rely on and the responsibility for every detail ultimately rests with you. But the atmosphere at the school is great, we have about 180 students, most come part-time and I know them all by name. I love seeing how they flourish and come out of themselves during their time with us.
I have not had time off since my partner and I took over the school. You have to be truly committed but it feels very rewarding. If I were crunching numbers and making bank transfers on top of my teaching responsibilities for someone else, it would be terrible but I find all these jobs motivating because they are for my own business. I would love to expand regarding the school’s size and the variety of courses on offer, including teaching other languages. In addition to my English teaching qualifications, my partner and I are both fully qualified Spanish teachers and London’s pool of talent is just unrivalled. We would love to be able to offer access to high quality teaching for a range of languages.
"The reality of being a young woman and exerting authority can be an issue… once I started I saw it didn’t matter. I have gained the trust of the students and they know me and how I work; If I say something will get done, it will get done, and that is how respect grows."
Knowing how my dad set up his business from nothing and seeing him run it from a young age showed me how much can be achieved when you are driven. He runs a different type of business but I learnt so much from watching him about the importance of being efficient, productive and motivated. He never leaves a job for later, no matter how big or small, and he loves his work.
My mum has really taught me how important communication is. This has been tremendously helpful as establishing personal relationships is so important when starting a business. Making those connections with people you work with is essential. Sometimes, all you need to do to reassure someone or to get the help you need is to be polite and courteous.
On youth and being a woman.
The reality of being a young woman and exerting authority can be an issue. Sometimes, people don’t think they need to take you seriously because of your age, it can happen a lot. But you quickly learn that you need to take a firm line and stand by your point. I’m 28 and someone once asked me “how are you going to make yourself stand out from your students?”
Suddenly I was worried about how I was going to dress and establish the fact that I am the principal when the age difference between myself and my students can be very narrow. However, once I started I saw it didn’t matter. I have gained the trust of the students and they know me and how I work; If I say something will get done, it will get done, and that is how respect grows. But it’s funny to think how worried I was about being taken seriously when I first started. It’s something men rarely have to think about.
On empowering women
I think the best way to empower women in the workplace is for men to take advantage of the opportunities that are considered to be for women. For example, paternity leave is mostly untaken by men in many career circles, the statistics for this are huge. We need to highlight how important it is and how men should have the chance to combine their work with childcare; it should have the same status as women leaving or reducing their hours to care for a child. It’s up to men to say ‘I want this time off to have a child’. I know men who want to take time off but they feel it wouldn’t be socially or professionally acceptable. They feel as though work will move on without them and they will be judged harshly by their peers and superiors for their choice to take paternity leave.
"If we want equality, we will need to stop assigning these fixed roles to both men and women and allow individuals to make the choices that work for them."
I think a lot of men feel pressured that they can’t prioritise their family. Some feel they can’t insist on being home by 7pm to put their children to bed. Until we can get to the point where both sexes can choose what role they want, inequality will remain. It’ll still be in the mind of the employer when deciding who to invest in; the woman or the man. It’s illegal but what can you do? These attitudes have been around ever since women entered the workplace, it’s hard to effect real change. But if men are as likely to take paternity leave as women, the investment and cost of hiring both genders will become equal. This is the only way we can get rid of the subconscious bias when making hiring or promotion decisions.
It’s also too much pressure on the woman to say ‘your whole family’s emotional well-being is down to you’. A woman might have a job just like her partner but it still appears to be her responsibility to stay home when her children are ill or her failure as a mother if she can’t attend the school play. I read an article about a man who was very successful in a high-profile freelance position, when he reduced his commitments to be with his children he found it really uncomfortable to tell people about it. If we want equality, we will need to stop assigning these fixed roles to both men and women and allow individuals to make the choices that work for them.
My biggest vice is definitely shopping. Before I was a teacher I didn’t need to be formal, but I’m far more aware of it now. I have work clothes that are comfortable and smart. There’s a practical element as well, the need to gesticulate and to be free to move and interact with people. I’m happy to wear bright colours at work but that’s alongside a base of navy or black.
The best advice I’ve ever received is that if you are the best person for the job, you have to say so. Don’t expect anyone to vouch for you if you cannot vouch for yourself.
If I were Queen for a day, I would want to give some media attention to those who need it but do not get it. There is a lot of discussion about how important learning English is for those who come to the UK but the funding for teaching projects is not there. I volunteered as an English teacher during my whole 4 year degree at Oxford in a project which gave university staff from overseas the chance to improve their career prospects by improving their language skills. Projects like this could be operating up and down the country if some funding was in place for their set-up and organisation.
"At a certain point, you realise that studying is the greatest luxury in life. We never really realise the value of it as students, but as soon as you start working, the idea of learning something new just for the sake of learning becomes such an indulgence."
I would also use my privileged position to visit places that aren’t open to the public. First on the list would be beautiful university & college libraries, places that others would probably consider really boring but which I find fascinating. At a certain point, you realise that studying is the greatest luxury in life. We never really realise the value of it as students, but as soon as you start working, the idea of learning something new just for the sake of learning becomes such an indulgence.