A new life in primary

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
After 30 years as a secondary teacher, Sandra Percy has decided to broaden her horizons and make the transition to a different sector

People say that 50 is the new 40 and so that would mean that my life should be about to begin. In August, I will have been teaching for 30 years - and in the same school. In Scottish education today, this must be a rare situation: staffs in schools are now transient and the situation is never the same from year to year, let alone for a period of 30 years.

Teaching, unlike other professions, will not acknowledge this period of service: it will be ignored. As a teacher, I have come to accept such situations. I am in the process of recovering from a long period of essentially work-related illness and this has given me time to reflect on my position.

To many the situation in which I find myself must appear comfortable: I have a permanent contract of employment, I am well acquainted with all the areas of the curriculum I am expected to teach and there could possibly be one of those magical, golden "packages" just over the horizon.

However, I do not feel comfortable. I feel I am in a rut. I no longer feel that secondary teaching is challenging in an intellectual and stimulating sense. For me, it is only challenging in terms of coping with increased paperwork; there is less time actually spent teaching and there is increased indiscipline. I know within myself that I still have a tremendous amount to offer the teaching profession, so what do I do?

As someone who has always been a strong advocate of professional development and reflection, I am no stranger to CPD and the problems which can occur when this is taken seriously. I have found myself on many occasions in situations in which I begin to question what I am doing, why I am doing it and then doing something about it.

These are just some of the reasons which have motivated my further study.

However, the position in which I now find myself is somewhat different. I am now post-50 and an unpromoted teacher. In secondary schools, which still operate a hierarchical management structure, such a situation is viewed with scepticism.

I know that probationary teachers see me as a dinosaur and questions such as "why didn't she manage to get a promoted post?" and comments like "there must be something wrong with her in that she's still just a teacher" do go through their minds. Let me assure them I deliberately chose to remain just a teacher and there is nothing wrong with remaining in the classroom.

Thankfully, the post-McCrone era is attempting to alleviate this situation.

While the McCrone agreement has attempted to promote CPD, however, I am sure what is happening in many authorities is that professional development is still viewed as attendance at courses. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but when the same courses are on offer year after year, people will eventually have attended most of the ones they are really interested in.

I must also admit that the introduction of the chartered teacher award has done a lot to help teachers in my position: it encourages reflection and financially rewards additional study and good classroom practice.

However, once I achieved this I felt that the door was once again closing.

At a time when I have been reconsidering my position with regard to what I now think of as the latter part of my career, I was lucky enough to read about a new option being offered to primary and secondary teachers by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Under the professional recognitionregistration scheme, a secondary teacher can apply to gain additional registration as a primary teacher.

I have applied. I openly admit I will be leaving my comfort zone and I am well aware that things have changed since I last observed teaching in a primary school 10 years ago. I also know that to gain full registration I will require to give up teaching in a secondary school full-time and accumulate the required number of days in a primary supply situation.

The latter is probably the biggest challenge and indeed the most frightening aspect of it all. However, these worries fade when I get that feeling of excitement and expectation that I can remember experiencing when I embarked upon other courses of study. I also feel that I have been given a second chance and I must take it.

Hopefully when I reach 60, I will look back and say "I'm glad I did it" and not "If only . . ."

Sandra Percy teaches in central Scotland.

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