Dear Ted

7th October 2005 at 01:00
I'm a 41-year-old man about to retrain as a primary teacher. What's the best way to prepare for my new career?

Ted says

First, congratulations on taking a very important step. No doubt lots of people have been telling you that you must be mad, but teaching is the most important job on the planet, in my view, so you are making a valuable contribution to the future of society.

Volunteering to help in a primary school is one useful step to take.

Working alongside a good primary teacher shows you what is involved and also shows the differences and similarities between interacting with your own children, if you have any, and those of other parents. As a teacher you are legally in loco parentis, acting as a responsible parent, but you also have to deal with a crowd. Coping with Year 4 in Little Piddlington primary is not quite the same as dealing with Jason and Samantha in No 10 Acacia Villas.

You will be given enough ashen-faced texts in your course, so make pre-course reading an enjoyable stimulus. Try classics such as John Holt's How Children Fail and How Children Learn, or more recent books such as The Creative School, by Peter Woods and Bob Jeffrey, which describes a successful modern primary. David Winkley tells an engaging story about being a primary head in Handsworth Revolution: Odyssey of a School.

Start collecting. Primary teachers are like squirrels, constantly scavenging pictures, story books, materials, artefacts. Before long you will be nicking Auntie Martha's coal scuttle and bellows for your Victorian England project, and begging holiday posters from your travel agent.

Finally, think about your career. What can you bring to education from your own working life? Now there's a challenge.

You say

Explore the depths of fascination

The first thing to do is to take stock of how deeply you are already a teacher. Relish your fascination with the subjects you want to teach.

Realise how much you have enjoyed seeing people's faces light up when you have shown them that they can understand or do something they thought was hidden from them. Think of what you would like to explore - and how good it would be to carry out this exploration with eager company. Then go and have all this sharpened and made official by getting your certificate.

Adrian Greeves, Banbury

Age shall not weary them...

Don't be too concerned or hung up about your age. After all, teaching has a noble tradition of attracting people in mid career.

By the time you complete your training you'll be working alongside people considerably younger yet more experienced than yourself. You must be prepared to take their advice. Doubtless you will also be sharing a staffroom with those around your age or older, many plotting their retirement. Don't get too touchy if one or two of them offer the opinion that you must be mad.

As usual, the best way to learn in any situation is to observe others. Look for role models, and be prepared to ascend the steepest of learning curves.

John Bateman, Worthing

Gym'll fix it for marathon of change

Well done for striking out in a new career direction. You deserve to succeed, but you must have seen the drop-out statistics. You can't afford to do that; by your mid to late forties you might be drinking at the last chance saloon. So you must do what you can to ensure success.

The key is determination. If you really want it, you will get through the training. And if you really want that first job, you'll get it. After that it's a matter of building a career.

But don't underestimate the drain on your physical and mental resources.

Most of us who have been in teaching a while remember that the first few years are totally exhausting.

In addition to the other sensible things you can do, sign up to a gym and get in training for the longest marathon you'll ever tackle.

Richard Lloyd, Selsey

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