Never too late;Career devleopment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Continuing the debate over ageismin teaching, Karen Lacy-Roberts says only negative attitudes are holding older teachers back

With the emphasis on youth in teaching and the drive to attract more "suitable" applicants into the profession, it is no wonder that teaching is suffering from low self-esteem. As an under-40 later entrant, it seems that teaching is suffering a mid-life crisis.

If two-thirds of teachers are over 40, then why are the younger third seen as the go-getters, movers and shakers? Ageism is a frame of mind just as much as the idea of eternal youth. The crux of the issue is how you feel in yourself and how this is reflected in your abilities and skills.

With so many teachers over 40, the number of opportunities for the mature applicant will surely be greater in teaching than in probably any other profession. It is a mistake to link ability and attitude to age. If teachers accept this way of thinking, then they are going to be even more demotivated and less willing to apply for positions of greater responsibility.

Schools that advertise posts within a certain age range are penalising themselves by not being able to consider a wide diversity of people. They are also precluding older NQTs (newly qualified teachers). New teachers must be able to look ahead in their careers, not feel stymied by age restrictions. It should not be a case of youth and enthusiasm versus age and experience.

Younger staff often feel more able to draw upon the experience of an older colleague rather than one of their own peer group. As Professor Kate Myers argued (Friday, June 5) schools should encourage older teachers to share their experience and good practice. Ideas on the best classroom management and teaching methods could be discussed during a five-minute slot in staff meetings. This would not be an onerous burden on precious time.

Perhaps we also need to remind ourselves that as a teacher's pension is based on final salary, it is no bad thing to obtain promotion later, even if it takes 100 applications. So what if you're 50 - there's still another 15 useful years ahead.

If your application is unsuccessful, never think that it is you that they are rejecting, but your skill set. Be confident and enhance your skills if need be. A couple of hours a week at night school can do wonders for your CV and also give you a fresh look at being a learner yourself.

Teachers at all stages in their careers need to take responsibility for their own professional development. Plenty of universities offer modular correspondence courses for teachers. Signing up will show you are serious about enhancing your employability.

Also it is possible to take on smaller roles within your current post that will not greatly overload you; perhaps mentoring one NQT for a year or developing some special needs resources for your department.

Something is badly wrong when older teachers do not apply for jobs fearing rejection because of their age, even though there are a huge number of vacancies at senior levels.

Remember that in an ageing profession there will be more opportunities for the younger oldies. You are the only person stopping yourself from progressing. Forget this mid-life crisis. Set your goals and forge ahead. You'll be surprised at what happens along the way to achieving your ambitions.

Karen Lacy-Roberts is a teacher in Leeds l Earlier articles on ageism appeared in the Career Development section of Friday on June 5

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