No job is for life, we were told in the Eighties. Management gurus such as Charles Handy dreamed up the concept of the portfolio society, in which we would market ourselves as a collection of skills rather than as a job label. Someone might start as a civil servant and retire as a landscape gardener with a sideline in accounts.
So it should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer teachers see their job as a lifetime vocation. As the pressures in the job increase, the risks of starting a new career look increasingly attractive. The old adage that "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach" is being turned on its head with the realisation that those who can teach can do lots of other things too.
Adaptability has become more important than long experience in one job and employers are looking for transferable skills that can be applied to different jobs.
Neil and Pauline Atkins left teaching because the pressures were increasing and they felt changes were being imposed without good reason. The basic classroom skills of organising four or five activities at once and coping with the unexpected as well came in useful when they ran a bed and breakfast business in New Zealand.
Pauline's experience in organising classroom support staff helped in her next job managing a charity shop, while her infant teacher's display skills were put to use in the show window.
Time management is one of the most useful transferable skills.Meeting a dozen deadlines a day for starting and finishing lessons to the minute, marking, preparation, lesson plans, reports, meetings I all develop multi-tasking skills.
Teachers also have to be good communicators. Many worksheets could stand up to comparison with the instructions in flatpack furniture or computer manuals. Teachers have to write in good, clear English for a range of audiences. They address audiences too, sometimes small groups, sometimes hundreds. Increasingly, teachers also have to manage visual aids, computers and videos. An English teacher on an exchange in industry was offered a job on the strength of a presentation.
Much of a teacher's work is persuading people to learn new skills, so some of them go into professional training. One education and training consultant, who wants to remain anonymous, sees little difference between teaching Year 7 and training teachers. "You have to ask yourself the same questions. What's the ability range? What do they want to get out of it? How do you let them enjoy it and learn?," she says.
Perhaps the subtlest skill is leadership. Team leaders in schools ask a great deal with few opportunities to reward success. They may lead people who are better qualified and more experienced than themselves, but a team cannot work effectively without mutual support.
"To run a team, you've got to be a good team member," says the consultant. "You use authority in a way that is not overt. You have to win respect." It is a skill she has seen more often in staffrooms than offices.
* Caring for pupils in care, Friday, p30