Disappointed? Never;Subject of the week;Career development

4th June 1999 at 01:00
Not all is lost if you're the wrong side of 40 and have never made the big break. It's all a matter of the right attitude, says Sue Roberts

There are two possible reactions to career disappointment: one is resignation - as in letter; the other is resignation as in, "So this is my destiny, I'll live with it".

The first kind of resignation offers a moment's drama and celebrity. The letter is written with a flourish, the signature underlined. The message is simple: "I quit!" The triumphal words may actually be spoken before the letter is flung on the desk. Goodbye to all that.

And hello what? A health farm, a holiday, time with the family? Few publishers would pay a teacher big money for his or her memoirs - "My years in front of the blackboard" has limited appeal.

Since more is likely to be extracted from your wallet than is sliding into it, the major peril with the dramatic resignation is poverty. So most teachers stick with the day job. I should know: after four years and more than a dozen applications for headship, I have begun to realise I may be a deputy until I retire. The risk is that I will become resigned to it, and bitter into the bargain.

This way misery lies. It is one thing for the job you want to shine like a star, convincing you it's within reach if you just perfect the application, polish the interview technique, buy a better suit and change the hairstyle. But it's quite another if it makes the job you have seem worthless.

Teachers seldom encourage their pupils to become teachers, but we who are teachers ought to have a little pride in the job. Yes?

Yes. Repeat after me ... Apparently James Joyce debated for months how to end the Molly Bloom soliloquy which concludes Ulysses: would Molly murmur "No", or "Yes"? He decided on the affirmative, simply because it was life-affirming. Good plan, James.

Failure to get the next job does not mean failure in the present one. It may mean the opposite - you're irreplaceable. If so, then be happy, but not complacent.

Teaching is not an occupation in which to stand still. Faced with the bright and new and challenging in every class every day, teachers have to embrace change, learn to enjoy it. We need Trainspotting as well as Shakespeare, satellite foreign language programmes as well as textbooks, trips to battlefields as well as essays on Hitler, the Internet as well as the library. School should not be just the same for our pupils as it was for us. We have learned more about the brain and how we learn in the past 20 years than in the previous 200. If teachers don't know how children learn, how can we teach effectively?

For many teachers, "lifelong learning" meant no more than a programme of courses designed with promotion in mind. But we send our pupils the wrong message if we declare that learning is only valuable if it's a passport to the next job. In fact, at whatever level we teach, retaining a readiness to learn may be our salvation. The same old job is exactly as new as you want to make it, new every morning, in fact.

Now where have I heard that before?

Sue Roberts is a deputy headteacher in a secondary school

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