From oil exploration and chemicals to the classroom

Steve Ashbee worked at Briar Chemicals for nine years before changing his path and getting into teaching.

Steve Ashbee worked at Briar Chemicals for nine years before changing his path and getting into teaching. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

A Thorpe St Andrew man who undertook a radical career change from oil exploration and the chemical industry to teaching is encouraging others to consider the classroom as a profession. 

Steve Ashbee, 52, previously worked for a French company off the coast Of Norwich and for Briars Chemicals in Norwich until he became a teacher in 2002. 

Having started at schools in Sprowston and Swaffham, Mr Ashbee has since taught science at Thorpe St Andrew School where he has been able to draw upon his previous experiences as a physics teacher.

Originally a geologist, who studied at the University of Southampton, Mr Ashbee worked in oilfields, but was released from his French company as an ex-pat worker when the price of oil began to drop. 

Physics teacher Steve Ashbee worked at Briar Chemicals for nine years, and draws on these experiences in the classroom.

Physics teacher Steve Ashbee worked at Briar Chemicals for nine years, and draws on these experiences in the classroom. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

He has been able to share a story with his pupils after being airlifted from an offshore burning oilrig when on a nightshift at the age of 22.


You may also want to watch:


Mr Ashbee recalled: "I was in the canteen and could see smoke coming out of the window and the fire crews were getting stuck in.

"Because I was tired and young, I just made a cup of coffee and after a few hours we had to evacuate. Looking back I can't believe I worked offshore. It seems such a long time." 

Most Read

And after nearly a decade at the Sweet Briar Road chemicals factory, Mr Ashbee decided to "take the plunge into teaching", completing an eight-year course at the University of East Anglia while he was still working, and with a young family for the last couple of years of the course.

He said the transition into teaching is now much quicker for those hoping to change career.

Mr Ashbee added: "The part of teaching I really enjoy is the practical work and there is a real help from what I have done in the past. I have always had a fascination with how things work like a wire going into a bulb.

"For those thinking about teaching, I would say there is satisfaction in the subtle little things put together to help shape someone's future.

"The first lesson in front of 25 teenagers is quite scary but confidence gradually builds up over time and if you are passionate and interested in your subject, it does come across. It is more of a vocation than a job. You do it because you enjoy it."

He recalled being stopped by one of his former Sprowston pupils in the supermarket, who he did not recognise as they were over 6ft and working as a policeman. 

To Mr Ashbee's pleasant surprise, the policeman recalled one of his lessons about tea cooling which had left a lasting impression.

Steve Ashbee worked at a chemical factory for nine years before changing career and becoming a teacher.

Steve Ashbee worked at a chemical factory for nine years before changing career and becoming a teacher. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Mr Ashbee found his first remote lesson during Covid homeschooling as daunting as his first-ever time in the classroom, but believes the online teaching worked well. 

For someone who has moved from oil exploration to the classroom, Mr Ashbee has certainly seen it all in his time. 

On his first job, he added: "The oil industry is certainly not it was 30 years ago but there is a changing fascination with the environmental aspect which is now so important."

Applications for teacher training in September 2021 are now open. To find out about the range of virtual events being held, visit https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk, or call the Get Into Teaching Line on 0800 389 2500.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus