Happy returns

Going back to work after a long break needn't be traumatic, says John Caunt

After all the publicity over staff-recruitment problems, any qualified teacher who is not working must be half-expecting the arrival of a government press gang.

But some don't need to be frog-marched back to the classroom. Some 12, 000 teachers returned to full-time posts in 1995-96. The majority of the willing returners are women who have taken a career break for family reasons, but others pick up the chalk again after pursuing other careers.

However, re-building one's teaching career is not always straightforward. One recent returner who had been away from teaching from 1990 to 1997 says:

"I was really bothered about the changes since last I taught; uncertain about my ability to pick up the threads again."

If you have been out of teaching for a few years, then undoubtedly a lot will have changed, but unfamiliar terminology and jargon may make this appear unduly intimidating. The chance to talk to staff currently teaching in your subject area, along with the possibility of some classroom observation or voluntary assistance, can go a long way towards refreshing your skills and confidence.

A direct approach to nearby schools or the local education authority will generally be positively received. It may even reveal opportunities for part-time work - the most common return route. For those who would welcome more structured input, a number of LEAs and higher education colleges run "returner" courses, ranging from three days to a full year.

There is generally a fee - typically Pounds 40-Pounds 75 for short programmes, Pounds 200-Pounds 500 for longer courses with accredited qualifications. The Teacher Training Agency (01245-454454) can provide details.

A frequent worry is that information technology has taken over to an extent that would leave the returner disadvantaged. In spite of the hype, IT in the classroom has not developed as quickly as expected. However, proficiency in IT is becoming increasingly important, and the acquisition of some basic skills will be useful and confidence-enhancing. There are numerous adult-education programmes which can get you started.

In any area of work, confidence will suffer as a result of an extended period away from the job. Recognise this and work to address the skill and knowledge gaps which have occurred. But don't let the need for minor refreshment undermine your whole self-esteem. Your fundamental knowledge and skills remain as valid as ever. As one teacher-trainer says: "Names may have changed, processes may have changed, but children are still children."


* Recognise that change is as tough for those who have remained in the profession as it is for you. They have had the additional burden of those changes which came and went during the time you were away.

* Take care not to lose the quality aspects of your life, and don't underestimate the challenge of juggling home and work commitments.

* Identify and market the additional skills you have acquired during a career break. Raising a family brings new insights into learning, while voluntary activity, fund-raising experience and developments in your sporting and leisure activities, may provide you with new things to offer.

* Don't be afraid to admit your unfamiliarity with developments that are new to you. Others can point out ways to address your knowledge gaps.

* Consider part-time or supply work as a way of making a phased return. Remember that manypart-time opportunities are not advertised.

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