Old and tired is not the answer

18th February 2005 at 00:00
I remember a time when we were told to look forward to a lifetime of relaxation and imaginative leisure. Then the financial world sneezes and we all shiver. Now we must work longer. I have already identified a corner in the staffroom to store Zimmer frames.

Looked at from an actuarial point of view it all makes perfect sense. We are living longer, there is not enough money to go round, so someone will have to put more in the pot.

If you are not in the classroom it seems to make perfect sense. To achieve a balance, make teachers teach longer.

After all, older teachers have a wealth of experience and knowledge that we would be foolish to sacrifice. Children would do well to learn at their knee.

But down in the swamp, in the real classroom, things are not so easy. Now a new future stretches out before the weary. No longer the inspirational figures they once were, their ability to offer a range of fresh performances every day declines.

Our schools are full of good teachers who have had enough, who have run out of steam, who simply do not want to do it anymore. Perhaps it is the same in every job. But if teachers are not as innovative or as open-minded as they once were, should they be entrusted with the responsibility of enthusing a new generation?

Instead of forcing exhausted teachers to face the receding prospect of retirement, we need to stop and recognise what it is that teachers do.

We deal with children. We hold the future in our hands. We do a special job that has special requirements. When we do our job properly we have an influence, we make a difference. When we do not want to do that anymore then the effects are far-reaching. We do not deal with paper. We deal with people and their future.

Teaching is not like other jobs. That is why there needs to be a more coherent exit strategy for teachers when they are ready to go.

There is no point in keeping a burnt-out teacher in the classroom. Make other duties available to those that want them. But let teachers go with dignity - and without financial penalty. They have given their all and now they have nothing left to give. The classes they teach deserve more.

The fact that a teacher has done their duty means they deserve more too.

This is not about teachers being different. This is about teaching being different.

The author is a senior manager in a south Wales secondary school

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