'Six years out of teaching and I'm past my sell-by date'

16th August 1996 at 01:00
I am one of a growing number of female teachers over 40 who prowl the shopping precincts of Britain, with plenty of skills and nowhere to use them.

I'd been a teacher for many years when I decided to take a "career break" (as they are now so coyly called) - in the old days it was called maternity leave - only to find that the changes during the six years I've been out of the classroom are on a par with the reorganisation resulting from the 1944 Education Act.

My skills, according to my friends still in the profession and my newly-qualified friends, are now out of date, and past their sell-by date. Although I have kept up with current trends and I think I might be able to find my way round a key stage or two, I am told that things are done differently these days.

My old teaching skills, which were founded on good personal relationships with both children and their parents, upon the belief that children should enjoy coming to school and thus be motivated to work hard and achieve to their fullest potential, and that children should have access to the widest possible curriculum at primary level, now seem to be viewed as quaintly old-fashioned and, having trained in the late 1960s, perhaps a bit dangerous!

I had helped in schools, kept up with educational developments, had a clear idea of what it was all about, and then I came up against another stumbling block: not only was I an educational dinosaur, I was also too expensive.

In our new value-for-money, two-for-the-price-of-one education system I, with my outdated skills, wouldn't be worth the money because two newly-qualified teachers could be employed for the same cost - or one newly-qualified teacher and a new computer. My self-esteem hit the floor.

Here I am, experienced in the ways of children and how they learn (I know from my own children that they haven't changed much) and willing to do a good job - if someone is prepared to take the risk. I know that if I was prepared to ring round schools and play the supply teacher system, I might fall lucky and be offered a job that can't be filled.

Luckily for me, I have other interests and don't need to look for work for financial reasons.

However, from what I can see, there will soon be large numbers of highly-experienced teachers who are fed up with helping in the classroom, who would like to get paid for what they trained three or four years to do, and who think they are not yet over the hill.

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