Fight before you are too tired

8th April 2005 at 01:00
It came as no surprise after 41 years of conference-watching that the National Union of Teachers' first day resulted in a motion to strike - this time over retirement at 65.

As a one-time activist and conference speaker for 40 years, I note that my old association, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, has followed.

I retired last year at the age of 61, having taught for 40 years. I found that at the age of about 58 I became desperately tired in the classroom. It was my body telling me that I had taught enough. Indeed, if I had gone on for much longer, my body would have said, "How about a stroke or a heart attack to grab your attention to stop?"

Having represented teachers for some 28 years at union level, I experienced many times the early deaths of those who soldiered on to the bitter end: retirement presentation one day, dead the following week.

The other week I saw one of my old school representatives, who used to boast that he would carry on teaching till 65, a claim he made when he was fit and well in his 40s. I was looking at a ghost - pale, drawn and haggard. I wondered if he met his target and at what cost?

While I sympathise with the NUT, what is the point of a one-day strike? It will be easily ignored, even if other public-sector unions join in. Have a few weeks' loss of pay? Unlikely. Who would win? Will finding the money for pensions be a priority or will other factors be more important?

I never subscribe to the "equality of misery" theory, but many workers in the private sector have seen their pensions disappear or be severely reduced. There is no doubt that the pension issue is a mess and will have to be addressed by whatever government comes to power in the next general election.

Teachers may have to pay more to maintain their current final salary settlement, and I would urge the union chiefs to get into negotiation with damage limitation as their goal.

This is not an issue for posturing with the lives and financial security of teachers. The old adage of "you get what you pay for" applies well in this case.

On the other hand, the Government must reconsider allowing teachers to carry on working until they either drop dead before retirement or soon after, which is a wonderful way of saving pension money.

Would you want a tired surgeon operating on you? Would parents want tired teachers falling asleep in class, which will be another good wheeze for unsympathetic personnel departments or the Office for Standards in Education to sack teachers either on grounds of incompetence or ill-health?

I might be able to stack shelves, operate a till or serve a drink at the age of 60 or 65, but teaching is emotionally, physically and intellectually demanding, and our children deserve better.

Wait until you reach your late 50s or 60. Your body will tell you whether you have had enough, not the secretary of state for education or pensions.

This issue could be a fight with no winners, even on a government spin of better, securer pensions. But at what cost to your health?

The cynic in me says it is a recipe to kill off more public-sector workers before the Government has to pay out.

Time will tell who is right. You have been warned. My tiredness was no fiction.

Bill Bradbury 2,Clifton Road Billinge Nr Wigan

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