Ruminating on retirement

Geoff Brookes

So it is almost here. In just a few short weeks, you will finally retire. You have been looking forward to it for such a long time and now it is almost upon you. It is hard to believe that soon that daily routine will end. Your life will no longer be ruled by bells; you will be free. You might even have plans to send a gloating text message from an exotic location to your former colleagues - but please don't cheapen yourself with that cliche.

You stand on the threshold of something, although you are not really sure what it is. We all spend our lives planning for the next stage. And then, suddenly, you have retired and you find yourself in the last chapter. It's a chilling idea. But we have to enjoy it while we can - there are so many others who never get that chance.

I did it last year and it is hard. You may feel as though you are setting yourself free - and you will certainly be leaving behind the politics, the paperwork and the deadlines. But it is a strange thing not going to work all the time, and there are aspects of it that you will miss. Particularly the children. They are why you did the job in the first place.

You can't teach well if you don't like people - nor, perhaps, if people don't like you. You have to relate, and that is what you have done. For me, the relationships I established with the pupils I taught have always been the greatest treasure.

Just before I finished, I met someone I taught 30 years ago. I had always exchanged Christmas cards with Amanda, but I hadn't seen her for years. Doing so made me realise the effect that a teacher can have. The interests she has now as an adult were formed during her schooldays. I knew that at school Amanda could escape for a while from an unhappy home. Of course, she also brought her own qualities with her - her compassion, her romanticism, her intelligence. And that unique mix built a unique person.

So, over the years, I have read about her happiness and her problems, the good men and the bad, her own children. It saddened me, too, that Amanda had no one to tell but her crusty old teacher.

I have taught hundreds of young people and not made the same connection with them all. But the privilege of the job is that we have the chance to form such bonds, to have an impact. It is a responsibility we must not take lightly.

I think that lots of teachers of our generation have had such an effect. And I wonder whether the target-driven teachers of today will be able to say the same. I have my doubts. The freedom we had to teach properly enabled us to build relationships and to turn young people on to our subject. We could follow interests, build enthusiasm. We could allow the inexplicable into the classroom; do things because they were good, not because they could be measured. We defied quality assurance and performance management. Of course, we all managed to turn some kids off completely, but perhaps we should let that pass. It didn't happen that often, did it?

We have all complained mightily about the tedious detail of being a teacher. But as you approach the final curtain, remember why you did the job and how good it was.

Geoff Brookes is a former deputy head in Swansea and a part-time quality champion.

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Geoff Brookes

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