Send for the Yuppies

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Burnt out, tormented by guilt and in need of spiritual fulfilment? Retraining as a teacher may be just the ticket, says Gordon Cairns

The Scottish Executive is finally responding to the shortfall in teachers needed to reduce class sizes by 2007 by creating 1,000 extra places at teacher education institutions. The next step is to find the people to fill them.

I wonder if Education Minister Peter Peacock could be tempted to aim his recruitment campaign at a sector that would not be put off by the low wages and limited promotion opportunities. In England, there has been a group of guilt-ridden, high earning professionals yearning for spiritual fulfilment by moving into teaching. Perhaps Scotland's yuppies could also be tempted into the spiritual boot camps that are Scotland's schools.

There have been two high-profile conversions to teaching. Downing Street special adviser Jo Moore, infamous for her "Good day to bury bad news" e-mail on September 11, and Tony Blair's speechwriter Peter Hyman have both walked away from their careers to become teaching assistants.

Could teaching actually be marketed as a penance to guilty yuppies, who have compromised their principles too often and for too much money and are now seeking redemption? There must be enough hard-nosed professionals out there who could solve the recruitment problem in Scotland in one fell swoop, but it makes me wonder what I did in a past life to come back as a teacher.

The advantage of recruiting from wealthy professionals is, of course, that they can afford to live in the city they work in, unlike many teachers who work in Glasgow or Edinburgh and have to travel in every day from the suburbs. Having earned enough money in their previous existence, they can look on their teacher's salary as an added bonus, or "petrol money" if you will.

One new teacher interviewed in the Guardian owned four flats. His main source of income was in renting three of them out. In fact, perhaps the new recruits could be paid less than other teachers, due to all the spiritual benefits they would be receiving.

I imagine the ex-yuppie teacher would face each day more positively than their wage slave colleagues. If you don't rely on the salary to pay your mortgage and feed your children, then you will not having that horrible feeling of being trapped in the job, with no escape until retirement.

Unfortunately, it also means they could simply walk away if the reality begins to intrude into the Mr Chips fantasy. It is hard to retain romantic notions about your profession at two in the morning when you still have to read another 20 essays about why dog fighting should be banned.

In the Guardian article, the downwardly mobile professionals who were interviewed spoke of the feeling of job satisfaction in their new careers; one even described a spiritually fulfilling moment.

A barely mentioned element was the pupils. Where do they fit in with the new teacher's karma? Are they simply useful problems put in their path on the journey of spiritual fulfilment or useful examples of how they "made a difference"?

I know of one person who gave up a successful career to join the profession and, apart from being on less than half his previous wages and the usual petty politics of school life, seemed to enjoy the experience. However, in the summer he went back to his old profession to repay some of the debts accrued during his probation year. The lure of a living wage, long lunch hours and perks of the job caught him and he never returned to the classroom.

Only 13 per cent of the 2,541 teachers who left the profession last year had reached the normal retirement age. We have to hope that the 2,633 who joined have realistic expectations about what their future job entails.

Scotland's schools don't need ego trippers, who see a job helping "the poor unfortunates" as comparable to working for VSO without the upheaval of having to leave home, before returning to their previous comfortable existence.

Gordon Cairns is a supply teacher.

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