Swimming teacher story: Karen Barnes

Karen Barnes, 33, started her training to become a swimming teacher during her maternity leave when her first child, Jack, was just ten weeks old.

Her son has just had his first birthday and Karen has been working part-time as a fully qualified swimming instructor for the last seven months. Karen says: “It’s been a roller coaster! In the last year my life has totally transformed. I’ve become a mum and also found a super new career that fits in with my family life. I couldn’t be happier.”

The start of Karen’s journey

Karen was pregnant when she started to assess her future. Could she return to her job as a proofreader after she had had her baby? How would she balance her hours and childcare? Karen says: “The more I thought about returning to my job, the more barriers I could see. I wanted to find a way to have it all. I was so excited about being pregnant and becoming a mum, but I was anxious about coping with my old job, the long hours, the travel, the overtime, and I increasingly felt this was the perfect time to make a career change.”

Karen had grown up around the swimming pool, following in her mother’s footsteps as a competitive swimmer. Being close to water was always part of her childhood, from splashing around in the sea on holiday to lessons at the local pool. She had always loved to swim. Whilst at University, Karen had trained to be a lifeguard to help fund her studies. It was during this time that she first became exposed to swimming teaching as a career.

“I spent a lot of time researching how to become a swimming teacher and what were the best teaching qualifications I would need. I looked at how long the training took and also what employment prospects there were. The further I looked into becoming a swimming instructor the more boxes it ticked. There was an abundance of local swimming teaching jobs available, all that were open to flexible working.”

Taking the plunge

Karen completed her Swim England Qualifications Level 1 training in July 2018 and her Level 2 in September 2018. She has additionally gone on to complete her Parent and Toddler course which has allowed her to take on a greater variety of swimming lessons and teaching hours.

Karen says: “My friends and family were quite shocked that I would be on a training course for a new career when Jack was so little. But I was lucky enough to have amazing support at home and was keen to get started, so I thought ‘I can do this!’ My level one course would take 12 hours over four days, but I was lucky to choose a blended learning programme, which meant I only had to be away from home for two days, the rest I could do online. My level two course took place over four separate weekends, and was much more hands-on, I chose the course that was running at weekends as it meant my husband was able to stay at home with my son.

“It felt amazing to be learning something new. It was great to meet new people, to have some time for myself, and to shake off my baby brain. The Institute of Swimming courses are very comprehensive, and I felt secure in my abilities through the work experience I gained.”

Life since qualifying

Since qualifying, Karen now works part-time, teaching children to swim on three afternoons a week, and an additional a few hours on Saturday. She has also taken on some ad-hoc cover work.

Karen says: “I’ve been offered more work than I currently want, and it’s great to know that as Jack grows older, I’ll be able to increase my hours in the long term. Becoming a member of the Institute of Swimming gives me lots of benefits including industry-leading insurance with up to £20 million of cover, personal accident and loss of income cover, unlimited free access to legal and employment advice, as well as additional online training, which will allow me to specialise and advance my career. The money is good, I pick and choose my hours, I’m working locally and it’s also great fun.

“I really enjoy working with my pupils and building a rapport with them. I want the children I teach to swim to associate the water with having fun and I make a real effort to make sure my lessons have varied and interesting content. It’s almost as if I trick the children into learning, through the fun teaching techniques I learnt from the Institute of Swimming’s tutor.

“Teaching swimming is so rewarding. It’s amazing to think I am teaching a life skill that could potentially save someone’s life. My old job seems a bit mundane in comparison. I think I would feel more guilty leaving my son to go and do a boring desk job that I am not passionate about. I know I am helping young people to develop, learn a new skill and be the best version of themselves. Teaching swimming has increased my confidence, has given me the opportunity to both work and play and also allows me to be a great mum!”