Interview with Caragh Barlow, We Love Pets franchise owner

As teaching becomes quite a different landscape for those who joined the profession in previous years, many teachers are looking at alternative career choices. But it can seem daunting when you’ve trained so hard and dedicated so much time to one thing. 

Find out how ex-teacher Caragh Barlow, 42, launched a new career with We Love Pets, a national pet care and dog walking franchise.

How old were you when you first decided you wanted to teach?

I was 23 when I started teacher training. I had worked in the science industry for a few years, then went back to university to do my teaching degree. 

Teacher training was the hardest thing I have ever done. You constantly doubt that you can do it, not because I didn’t enjoy it. I think this is normal for many teachers?! But, I loved it once I started doing it.

Can you remember how you felt when you got your first teaching job? 

I was really excited and really scared at the same time. It was the first teaching job I had applied for and my first teaching interview. I was really relieved to have a job and excited to take the next step, but remember worrying that I would now have to actually do the job. 

As a trainee teacher there is lots of support from a mentor and you are never in the classroom alone. It was a scary thought to finally be on your own. You also want to make sure you are doing a good job so your students achieve their very best too.

What were the best bits about being a teacher?

It sounds really cheesy, but to know you get up each morning and make a difference. 

Working with children and young people is fun. Every day is different, teaching is a massive learning curve, so there is always something new to learn.

I loved working with children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). I worked hard to learn about difference aspects of SEND and develop my teaching/classroom strategies to meet their needs.

Often teaching was beyond exhausting but just as you got to that point where you felt you couldn’t do it anymore a parent or student would thank you and say you had made a difference. This made it all feel worthwhile. Sometimes it was just a student making you laugh or smile. The job was NEVER boring!

How long were you teaching before you started to have doubts this was a career until retirement? 

I taught for 14 years. I am not really sure when I made the decision, I think it was a long process for me and not due to just one reason. In fact, I think my reasons for giving up teaching have been quite complex and due to a number of factors

It was very difficult to turn my back on my career, my colleagues and the students. I think I started to realise I was unhappy, not with teaching, but the situation many teachers find themselves in. I looked at alternative careers, but felt trapped as I wasn’t using my skills and also felt I couldn’t earn enough outside of teaching.

I was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a positive outlook whilst teaching. I was suffering from stress and this was impacting on my health. I also found it increasingly difficult to provide a quality environment for learning due to budget cuts.

There have been significant changes to the curriculum, funding and the expectations placed on teachers.

Did you at any time think there was little else you could do because you’d trained to be a teacher?

Yes! I knew the situation was not sustainable for me in teaching. Yet when I looked for other jobs or career paths, I felt that I would need to completely start a new career again and take a significant wage drop.

Did you at any time want teaching to work because you’d spent so long wanting to be a teacher? 

Yes, I’d taught for 14 years. I tried my best to make it work. I had worked very hard on my career and it was a big step to let that go. You also build relationships with staff and students and it feels like you are letting people down. 

What made you look at starting your own business? 

I wanted to take my life back. In teaching I felt like I had no life. Weekends and holidays were often for catching up on work or sleep.

I now have a work life balance. I can choose when I work so manage to fit more family time and me time into my life.

I also loved the idea of using the skills I had learnt in teaching and using them to build a business from scratch, something I can call my own.

How long did you think about running your own business before you got in touch with We Love Pets? 

Again, I am not sure when my thoughts first started. But it had been on my mind for a number of years. I was frightened to start a business on my own, but I knew I loved animals and wanted to work in this field.

I did look at other similar franchises and decided this could be a route so I had support to help me set up my business. I first spoke to the team about 18 months before deciding to join We Love Pets.

You mentioned that teaching affected your levels of stress, are you comfortable elaborating on that?

Yes, but it was hard to admit this to myself at first.

I struggled to sleep at night, worried constantly about work and was also not living a very healthy lifestyle. I was not exercising enough and comfort eating to cope with the stress.

I had periods of time off work when the stress got too much.

Have any of the above improved since shutting that classroom door?

All of the above!

Have your friends and family noticed any change in you since leaving teaching?

Absolutely! I am happier, calmer, sleep better and I am no longer stressed. I enjoy socialising much more as I am not as tired. When I was teaching, I spent my weekends sleeping and watching a lot of tv as I was so tired. I now want to get outdoors more and see friends. I am living a much healthier lifestyle.

Caragh owns the Preston, Lancashire branch of We Love Pets. Find out more here. Or to find out if We Love Pets are looking for branch owners in your area take a look at their website.