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All you want for Christmas is...

... early retirement? Well, if that's the case, then take great care before ripping open that package, says John Kirkcaldy

It isn't as easy as it once was to take early retirement. But that uncomfortable fact doesn't prevent many middle-aged teachers from thinking about making a break for it, especially in the dog days of winter.

Early retirement is, however, something that has to be weighed up extremely carefully. Here are "ten commandments" from one who escaped last year at the age of 50.

1 Plan your exit carefully. Do your sums and check the arithmetic. Get as much advice as possible. Personally, I found the union useless, but some people claim they were helpful.

2 Organise your alternative. Do you really want to bird-watch or learn Esperanto? Lots of things look good from the outside. A friend of mine, whose fantasy is to run a restaurant, has to cook a large-scale dinner for money once a year, just to remind themselves that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

3 If you are considering taking up water-divining or being an abattoir-worker, do the basic training first. Life is expensive when you are organising a vocation. You should know that education increasingly does not come cheap.

4 Remember that the life of a part-timer is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Part-time teachers are always chopped first. They also get the worst classes and few rights to the photocopier or car park. If you think teaching is bad, part-time teaching can be worse.

5 Resign in haste and repent at leisure. Don't resign in a temper, just before Christmas, half-way through reports, or on the day the Department for Education and Employment asks for a list, in triplicate, of how many chairs have been broken in your classroom over the past eight years.

6 Manuals on the management of personal relations advise you to say to yourself "It is over" three times. If it still sounds OK the third time, then do it. If you keep asking people if you should retire - then don't.

7 If you decide to go after weighing up all the options, negotiate hard. What is on offer and why changes almost monthly, and differs according to school, college, education authority and subject taught.

8 Don't announce your retirement until you are certain. Every staffroom has a few Dame Nellie Melbas or Frank Sinatras who are unable to face the final curtain.

9 Give your address and send Christmas cards only to those people with whom you wish to stay in touch.

10 Don't make a come-back. Teachers should be like ambassadors and publicans - they should never go back. In a couple of years they will probably have forgotten about you anyway. Make your farewell speech short. Avoid long-windedness (the sin of most teachers), boring anecdotes and rambling accounts on "whither education?". And always ask for money as a farewell present.

Some of this may sound like what Basil Fawlty would call "the bleeding obvious". All I can say is that in my experience, these commandments are often broken. Most people come into education for a variety of reasons, the same applies to departures.

Lack of promotion, personal problems, increased stress and strain, boredom and the green-field syndrome often predominate. My own final straw was a trainer who came down to tell us that there was a big new idea in education - "people".

Feel free to break the above rules, but don't forget to enjoy yourself. Having been declared super fit, my father planned a brilliant retirement but dropped dead at the office, aged 63. Retirement can be like youth - often wasted. Don't waste yours.

John Kirkcaldy is a former college lecturer. He is now a part-time tutor with the Open University.

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