Back to school? No thanks

16th March 2001 at 00:00
The Government's appeal for the return of 25,000 retired teachers is unlikely to prompt a flood of replies, writes June Izbicki

I have just binned the letter and registration form asking if I want to return to teaching. The only advantage would appear to be the opportunity, if one works for at least a full year, to clock up a bit more pension under the Elected Further Employment regulations.

Within my immediate circle of former colleagues and retired teachers, numbering somewhere between 50 and 100, I can count on the fingers of one hand those likely to be, at best, tempted to send in the registration form.

This is not because they wereare lacking in commitment to young people or the future health and well-being of their grandchildren, but mainly because they don't have the time.

If messrs Blunkett and Blair had done their homework they would have discovered that most retired teachers are already fully occupied, either in education-related work on a full or part-time basis, or in another field where their transferable skills and expertise is bringing them better conditions of service and higher rewards than teaching ever did or could, or simply enjoying the well-earned fruits of their 40 years' labour.

English, I see from the latest TES survey (March 2), is top of the vacancies list, and I loved teaching it, from Year 7 up to A-level and university entrance. I wouldn't mind doing it again for a while. But I'm already busy, doing threshold assessments (which is very important if we are to keep our teachers in the classrooms), taking on consultancies, writing the occasional article and, yes, enjoying the fruits of my labour, especially more freedom to travel and do some of the things I was often too tired to do when teaching full time.

Having taken early retirement from senior management at 54, I felt morally bound to give back to the profession and the country as much of my expertise, understanding and skills as possible. So, after five months of retirement, I signed up with one of the agencies that specialise in interim educational management and consultancy. Since then, I've had three very different assignments, all offering me both opportunities and freedom to do thins my way - something I hardly ever experienced while in full-time employment, especially since the national curriculum and subsequent initiatives, that have, by definition, taken away the initiative from teachers.

When I started teaching, we teachers, although badly paid, at least still had the professional freedom to choose and tailor our curricula to the needs of our pupils - and we got results. Now the wheel has come almost full circle. The curriculum is being freed up again - but the ethos of trusting the trained professional to get on and do the job, requesting support and mentoring as and when it was needed, has gone.

Young teachers now are a wonderfully optimistic and hard-working bunch of people. But they have been trained to carry out a standardised set of operations according to government policies. This can have a stultifying effect on their work with more demanding pupils, on their ability to cope with change, and on their effectiveness in a less structured setting.

To those few retirees who do return I wish them the best of luck. If they haven't been inside a mainstream city classroom for a few years then I suggest they have a close look before committing themselves. They might not like, or even recognise, what they find.

In the less attractive (and therefore more needy) schools they will find not only demoralised staff, but sometimes angry pupils. Year 10 and 11 pupils, especially those who have started exam courses only to find themselves denied the chance to finish them because of a lack of teachers or poor teaching, have every right to be angry. In these schools returners will also find behaviour management systems that require extra work to be effective. Their line managers are likely to be stressed-out and unable to offer the kind of support that returner teachers may need.

Above all they may find the kind of atmosphere - created by a mixture of anxiety and pressure - that is in no way conducive to good teaching or learning. For those who retired from such settings, returning is a matter not to be taken lightly.

Letters, 20

June Izbicki is a retired secondary school senior manager and is now a consultant specialising in failing schools

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