Gone on vocation

14th November 2003 at 00:00
You have a well-paid, glamorous and rewarding job. Then you chuck it all in to become a teacher. Why? Harry Dodds finds out

Recent statistics from the Teacher Training Agency suggest that well over one in every three postgraduate teacher trainees is over 30. I had to read that twice when I first saw it. Then I reflected on the age range of the cohort of PGCE trainees I worked with last year. Only one in seven of them had joined the course immediately after taking their first degree, and the oldest was 43.

These figures prompt two big questions. Why are so many people choosing to teach rather than continue in reasonably well-paid and apparently rewarding jobs? And what will be their impact in staffrooms and classrooms?

The three career changers featured here didn't go into teaching because they had been persuaded by government advertising campaigns. Nor did they drift into a PGCE course because it would give them another year to enjoy a student lifestyle.

Their choices were personal and evolutionary, the result of a gradual realisation that, no matter how good they were at their jobs, and no matter how glamorous or well-paid they were, something was missing.

They were all successful in what they were doing, had acquired highly marketable skills, and could probably have continued to work in their fields until pension time. What were they looking for?

The answer seems to lie in the qualities they share. They are all accomplished communicators; they all speak of their work in terms of relationships, of honesty and directness; and they all want to be part of purposeful communities. They are not dreamy idealists. They are practical, hard-grafting classroom teachers, finding in teaching fulfilments that their previous work did not offer.

It's a good thing for schools to be able to give their pupils insights into the "real world" for which they are being prepared, and the more diverse and extensive the range of experience embodied in their teachers, the more wide-ranging that preparation will be.

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