At a loss for words

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Ill health forced Ian Joslin to give up full-time teaching. So why can't he go back part-time?

That's it then. I'm no longer a teacher. Not my choice, you understand: a year ago I was hit by meningococcal meningitis which nearly killed me and left me too damaged to continue. For the time being, at least.

So what am I now? Why do I feel this awful lack of direction and identity? It's too soon to call myself "teacher, retd." Despite the previous government's constant efforts to destroy public confidence in the profession, I've been proud to be a teacher. I've never felt ashamed when it came to the box with "occupation" next to it. But give me a box to fill in today and I'm at a loss.

My job had become a large part of who I am - was.

I mentioned this problem of self-definition and the loss of it to my father-in-law, who had much more cause for complaint. He was once the head of one of the most successful comprehensives in the country and had been awarded the OBE before his health forced him to take early retirement. Anyway, he didn't know what I was talking about.

At no time had his work been so important that he felt it expressed his being, or defined him in any way. He was dedicated, worked hard and took a pride in his achievements - but believed in always being detached. Perhaps I didn't have enough of that, which is what makes this severance so difficult now. The untimely end to the job didn't help as it left so many things undone.

The DFEE hasn't eased the pain either: they threw the baby out with the bath water when they banned teachers from returning to the classroom and keeping the sickness pension. What about the woman in my sister's school who had to give up full-time work because of rheumatoid arthritis, but who is now doing a first class job working one-to-one with a child with special needs? What about people like me? I'm 50 with specialist, if not perfect, skills after 28 years teaching. Now I'm barred from using them in schools again unless I give up the pension.

What makes it worse is the fact that Teachers' Pensions makes it clear there is no objection to me taking up any other paid kind of employment. If I can work elsewhere and keep the pension, why not in schools? I could use those hard-won skills, albeit at a reduced rate, to everyone's benefit. Do the rules have to be quite so draconian, so final?

When I retired, I left a full-time post with a responsibility. That does not mean I won't be able to cope with a part-time position one day, but I couldn't if the pension was stopped. If teachers like me can't work in schools at all, what a waste of talent, experience and skill!

Some people might argue I'm being greedy, that I want my cake and eat it. But I believe the pension should be seen not as remuneration, but as the part which the teacher can no longer earn because of disability.

For the present it seems I am deprived of any sort of teaching life and I'll have to put up with it. It's not as though I'm at a loss to fill my time; it's having too many choices that's the problem and not knowing how to prioritise.

It's far too early to retire from life - and I hate daytime TV. I'll soon get over this sense of being in limbo - my immediate problem remains: what the hell do I put on the form?

Ian Joslin lives in Totnes, Devon

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