From The Editor - Damascus, via the scenic route

19th October 2012 at 01:00

Time Was when most teachers followed a predictable route into the classroom. School followed by college followed by school. These days, it's different. The average age of new teachers is over 30, while a third of all entrants into the profession will have had one career or several before deciding that what they really want to do is teach.

These are the teach seconders (see pages 26-30). They are the pop stars, journalists, footballers, soldiers and sales executives who wake up one morning in a cold sweat and think, "Sod it, there must be more to life than bullets, bonuses or bylines; I want to do something meaningful with my life". Some will then go off and write diet books or discover Jesus, but epiphany for many will involve teaching.

"Darling," they will explain to a sceptical partner who is almost certainly more financially savvy than them, "I've had a wonderful vision. I'm standing in front of a crowd of expectant 14-year-olds explaining algebra and ... " The rest is history and a lot more debt.

However that Damascene decision turns out for individuals - and in some cases it will end as well as Engelbert Humperdinck's quest for Eurovision glory - this has to be a welcome trend. Teachers with experience of life beyond education can only be good for pupils and the profession.

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. Not all converts are equally welcome. A Nick Leeson in business studies might be a risk, as would a Sylvester Stallone in PE or an Ann Widdecombe in dance. But shortcomings in a former life shouldn't be a bar to chances in the next. What headteacher wouldn't take a punt on a George Carey in textiles, say, or a Nigel Farage in French?

For teachers struggling with a mountain of marking and a relentless curriculum, the idea that mature non-combatants might be keen to join the education front line may seem surprising. It shouldn't be. Teaching is a highly trusted profession. According to last year's Ipsos MORI Veracity Index, teachers were the second-most trusted profession in the country. They scored 81 per cent, just behind doctors on 88 but well in front of judges on 72, the clergy on 68, the police on 63 and business leaders on 29 per cent. Journalists scored 19, a measure of contempt matched only by politicians, who were trusted by a mere 14 per cent of the public.

This influx comes with a caveat, however. Experience of a life before teaching can be an advantage but it isn't a preparation. "I thought I could go in there and perform," says a former musician, "and they would love me." The pupils didn't. "In my first year of teaching I was very bad at behaviour management," confesses a former nightclub manager skilled in the art of pacifying pimps and prostitutes. In the army, "failure wasn't an option", says a former soldier who had to learn that losing was an essential part of education.

Teaching, as Jamie's Dream School spectacularly proved, requires more than good intentions. It's akin to genius - "1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration". Only journalists and politicians believe it's easy, and we know what the public thinks of them.

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