Retired and still teaching
Kate Oakley is a volunteer teacher and organiser with a childcare foundation in Uganda
When did you retire from teaching?
I took early retirement at 58 to care for ill, close relatives.
What kind of teaching do you do now do?
At the moment, I’m leading a grand tour of Great Britain with a group of Ugandan children. We visit schools, churches and town centres and sing to raise money to feed malnourished children in Uganda.
When I’m back in Uganda, I teach science, English and tailoring for around 11 hours a week in a school for four to 20-year-olds. We aim to give children the skills that they need to earn a living.
Why did you become a volunteer?
My husband sadly died following an illness and after 18 months of grieving, I decided I needed to do something. I surfed the net for overseas charities, but some required long-term commitment. I still wanted to see my young grandchildren, so I needed something that was short-term. Then I found the Molly and Paul Childcare Foundation. I contacted them and Paul, co-leader of the charity, invited me over.
I was horrified to see children who hadn’t eaten for four days and local Ugandan teachers who worked in schools and hadn’t been paid for four months. It was a shocking experience. I began to question myself and wondered what I was doing there and thought that I would be better off at home. Suddenly, I was asked to take a class of 100 children to cover for an absent teacher. They didn’t speak any English and I had to think quickly, so we ended up singing and clapping. I knew I couldn’t turn my back on them and decided to stay to help in any way I could.
Describe the highlights
Definitely all the people I’ve met doing this incredible work. There’s no greater feeling than knowing that you’re actually making a difference to someone’s life by giving hope to those who had no hope. I can only describe it as incredibly life-affirming to be with people who are so grateful for your help, and to share in their joy.
And the lowlights
Meeting children who hadn’t eaten for four days; poor classroom conditions; lack of resources but we coped wonderfully despite this. Not having running water and an unreliable supply of electricity and again, we got used to this and learnt to live with it.
Where can would-be volunteers find out more?
David Bennett, part-time special needs teacher and book reviewer
When did you retire from teaching?
I retired at 55. I had been head of English at a Nottinghamshire comprehensive and felt more than ready for the change.
What kind of teaching have you done since you retired?
I’ve taught both the senior school English groups for entry level at a special needs school, and was based mostly with the 16+ Unit. I’ve tried my hand at everything from cooking to current affairs, wrote the school play, and went on a residential trip to Derbyshire.
I also write book reviews for Books for keeps, a children’s book magazine.
Why did you seek this work?
In the previous summer term before I retired from teaching at a comprehensive school, I was feeling written out of the plot, so I knew I needed a change. I got into book reviewing after completing a course following a stint as a school librarian in the mid seventies. I got hooked on children’s literature, met the editor who asked to review a few books.
Describe the best bits
It was a challenge to find new approaches to familiar material so that the student could access the lesson. It wasn’t long before I abandoned the idea of writing. Now, nearly everything is oral and the pupils’ skill in everyday communication has definitely improved. On one of the residential trips, I was with a group of 10 children in the Derbyshire plague village of Eyam. I did a role play lesson on the spot, which seemed to spring from nowhere, as did the group of ramblers who stood and watched me. It was the lesson of my career and one most of the students recalled at the best bit of the entire four days. Although some preferred the ice-creams I bought them.
The best bit about writing book reviews is the kind of opportunities it leads to. I carried out an interview with the author Alan Garner who spent most of our meeting lying full length on a settle. The great man phoned me later to say I’d ‘got him right’. I also did some stints on radio with children’s laureate Michael Rosen and was asked to edit a collection of short stories for Kingfisher. I still receive tiny royalties on that.
And the worst
One day, as I walked through the school hall I felt a big punch. It was one of the students who had emotional and behavioural difficulties who often randomly hit out at people for no particular reason. He has a permanent minder.
The worst bit about reviewing books is when I’m given a bad and very long novel to read. At the end of it all, the pay is paltry. Still, I get to keep the books which I’ve passed on to all sorts of deserving causes.
How can others find out more?
To work in a special needs school, it’s a good idea to visit one first so that you have a good understanding of the demands and the kind of work you’ll do. Ask the headteacher about local courses and see if you can enrol on one.
To be a book reviewer, it’s probably best to contact speialist magazines and publications. They are inundated with enquiries, but it’s worth a try. Try sending some sample material along with a request for work.
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