Now I am the master.

24th October 2014 at 01:00
Returning to teach at the school where you studied could be considered unadventurous - and even detrimental to education. Yet it can offer attractive advantages, writes Sarah Cunnane

"When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master."

Darth Vader may have used that phrase a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it appears that the sentiment (if not the exact wording) is still common in education. Across the globe, students are returning to their old schools to take up roles as teachers. For many, this is not just a brief stopover: in some cases, people return straight from teacher training and leave only when they retire.

Should it matter that a person is educated and then educates in the same institution? It certainly shouldn't be surprising that people go back. School days are the best of your life, we're told, so why not relive them and get paid for it? And what better champion of a school's philosophy and greater inspiration for what can be achieved than a former pupil sitting behind the teacher's desk? But what if it's not all good news? Going back to your old school raises certain issues that are in need of some exploration.

First, however, we need to look at why teachers choose to return. For some, it is not really a choice at all. Samantha Chapman lives on the Falkland Islands and when she decided to be a teacher, she didn't have much alternative as to where she would work if she wanted to stay in the South Atlantic. "We only have one infant and junior school so it was my only option if I wanted to be at home," she explains.

Yohanes Iule was less geographically tied, but he would argue that he was equally compelled. He says that although he did not plan to go back to his school in Ethiopia once he had completed his teacher training, he felt obligated to return because of the scarcity of manpower there, especially in his subject of chemistry.

"The first day was so exciting," he remembers. "I couldn't believe I was a teacher where I was once a student."

Iule's desire to give something back, to return to a place where he was given a chance at life in order to give the next generation the same opportunity, is a common theme in students-returning-as-teachers circles: they often feel as though they owe something to the school, that they want it to thrive and so return to ensure it does.

But for some the decision to teach at their old stamping ground is less to do with wanting to give something back and more a case of "Why not?". Even under the same headteacher, a school can become very different over a five-year period. Why, therefore, should you rule out an institution purely because you studied there yourself?

Helen Bell was certainly reluctant to go back to her school when she qualified as a teacher, believing that she would feel like a student again, as if she had not moved on. "I did a week's placement there after university and hated it, because I felt like a child and was really uncomfortable trying to teach classes," she says.

But with time, those insecurities lessened. "It had been six years since I left sixth form and I had grown in confidence during my time as a supply teacher. It helped that there was only one of my old teachers left in the department. The rest of the department were new staff or hadn't taught me and I didn't know them, so although many of my old teachers were still at the school, it was a new start in the actual department."

If you are going to stay in the same area you grew up in, ignoring a school simply because you went there as a child would be a bit limiting. Merryn Hutchings, emeritus professor of education at London Metropolitan University, says we should not be surprised that many people wind up teaching where they were students. "Most teachers end up within 20 miles of where they trained. Since quite a lot of students study near home, the likelihood of ending up in the same place is quite high," she says.

But Bell raises another interesting point about going back: she felt she had to serve her time in teaching so that when she did go back to her alma mater, she "deserved" it. Implicit in that statement is the suggestion that going back to your old school is an easy choice, that the old network of contacts will ensure you sail through the application process and secure employment whether you are any good or not.

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