Age may wither them

12th August 2005 at 01:00
Older people may now lose out financially if they choose to enter teaching, thanks to the new wage scales, says Gordon Cairns

Who makes the best teachers, older people with experience of other jobs or those who have gone from school to university and then back to school as teachers?

The teachers' agreement, which levelled the wage scale for new entrants, may have made teaching a less attractive proposition to more established individuals. In the past, a teacher's age on joining the profession was reflected in how much his or her starting salary would be, with some new starts at the top of the pay scale. This created a ridiculous situation where mature probationers could earn more than colleagues with five years'


However, now it seems prospective teachers with responsibilities such as families and mortgages are being discouraged from applying to the profession, as not only will they have to exist on a student grant for a year (if they are lucky enough to qualify for one), they will also not reach their full earning potential for another six years.

It would be a loss to Scottish schools if the supply of professionals with extra curricular experience dries up. Skills gained before coming to the smart board can benefit a teacher in a number of different ways, not only in their daily work but also in developing strategies to cope with the unforeseen pressures of the job.

As teaching becomes less about standing up on your hind legs in front of a class and more about meetings and paperwork, experience of drudgery in other careers would help with this unromantic element of the job. And with less time spent in the classroom, inter-personal skills become more and more important and these are easier to develop outside of the profession, where there are more opportunities to deal with adults.

Some teachers who have gone straight from university back to school have an unfortunate tendency to speak to - and treat - everyone they meet as if they were a naughty five-year-old (and I am not only referring to those in the primary sector). I remember my first day at teacher-training college, when the lecturer addressed the class with the wide-eyed expression and very slow diction of someone used to dealing with wayward children rather than a group of postgraduates.

For one thing, teachers with experience outside teaching will be less likely to be disillusioned, as they will have fewer illusions to be shattered. Those whose life's dream is to become a teacher could find it harder to cope with their second-years not finding Goodnight Mr Tom the most life-affirming piece of literature they have ever come across. Nor do I suppose that in their imagination did they see themselves coping with a growling third-year class last period on a Friday afternoon.

Working outside teaching also lets you see that teaching compares very favourably with a lot of other jobs. Many of those who have only taught imagine that in other professions, people are earning a fortune while they email their friends all day. While teaching is the most physically and mentally tiring work I've ever done, it is nice to have a great deal of autonomy and not have a boss looking over your shoulder all the time, not to mention finishing at 3.30pm every day while earning a good salary.

On the whole, however, younger teachers will have a lot more energy to take on the full job that is teaching and have fewer responsibilities to free themselves up for extra-curricular activities. In my experience, younger teachers tend to have more natural enthusiasm for their job and be less cynical than their older colleagues. And they may have a greater affinity with their charges.

Knowing what Eminem's real name is, wearing the right labels or having an opinion on last night's game can garner respect among pupils today, and if a teacher can connect with a pupil in any area, this helps the teaching process.

Also, young male teachers can play in important part in the development of their young male charges as role models. Boys brought up by single mothers may have few opportunities to see young men taking on responsible, law-abiding positions.

On The TESS website, one poster has suggested that there be a minimum age of 27 for entering the profession, which I think is too prescriptive. Each individual brings his or her own qualities to the job, regardless of how old he or she is.

Gordon Cairns is a supply teacher.

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