Working in museums education is a very rewarding and creative career. Museums themselves are such exciting buildings with incredible collections; I learn something new every day and I feel very lucky to work in such a beautiful, inspiring place.
I work at the Sir John Soane's Museum. As a museum educator, you need to know about the curriculum so you can support teachers in their work, but you are also able to bring children experiences that they couldn’t have in schools, with lots of flexibility in terms of the way that you shape this. There is also sometimes more time for creating learning experiences, meaning there is hopefully a chance to be innovative and to be led by spaces and objects in the development of sessions.
We work with a range of ages at our museum, so in a typical week I could be engaging with young children, teenagers, undergraduates and adult learners, resulting in a real sense of variety. Running informal learning and family events is lots of fun, and watching people becoming inspired by museums and their collections is such a privilege.
My PhD research was about learning through arts and cultural experiences, with a focus on theatre for children. It’s great to get to continue some of this work through a part time lectureship at ARU alongside my museum job. I teach undergraduates and continue to think about the ways in which experiential learning happens in cultural institutions.
Museums education is a very competitive field, with lots of people looking to gain experience and many applicants for each job (often hundreds!). Having a good understanding of teaching and learning, as well as the education sector, is essential. Many people come to museums education after working as teachers, or after a Masters where they study learning in a museum context. It’s also essential to get lots of experience working in museums, either as a volunteer, as a freelancer, or as an assistant to the education or visitor services teams.
Many people are moving towards ‘portfolio’ careers, where they have several part time jobs instead of one focus (although these jobs are often linked). This is really exciting and means you never tire of what you’re doing, but it does put a lot of pressure on your time and can be quite stressful. I am constantly learning how to work more efficiently and prioritise in order to manage these demands, and I have a long way to go still!
I have got to work on some very interesting projects. At the beginning of 2018, we developed a performance project at the museum for a families audience, which I’m very excited to share. As a researcher, I have been lucky to work with some fantastic institutions doing some really interesting educational work. A summary of some research on the theatre company Punchdrunk and their project for schools, The Lost Lending Library, can be found here.
I couldn’t do either of my jobs had I not first trained in education and begun to develop an understanding of teaching and learning. A qualification in education can be applied to so many different fields, and teaching is an absolutely invaluable skill for life. Practising and thinking about teaching and learning keeps you constantly challenged, with so many opportunities to be creative and (hopefully!) to do work which makes a difference to others.