I USED to think that being over 50 was a rotten idea, but now it seems rather a good thing. The coming decade will be the golden age of the fiftysomethings in teaching. As a consequence of the high rate of recruitment in the 1960s and 1970s, the current estimate is that in 2006 about half of all men teachers and 40 per cent of women teachers will be over 50.
Fears that the nation's teachers will inevitably become knackered has-beens are exaggerated, however. Teaching is a profession in which experience can be a handicap or a blessing. Every year each teacher engages in about 200,000 exchanges with pupils - questions asked, praise given, reprimands, information swapped. That adds up to about a million transactions every five years of your career.
As a result, people either close their minds, believing they have mastered their craft, or carry on learning, capitalising on their enormous experience to make judicious changes to what they do. It is a job you can get better and better at, provided you have not switched off your imagination and zeal. The message is clear: use it, or lose it.
The psycho-analyst Erik Erikson described middle age as a struggle between "generativity", the ability to do something for the next generation, and "stagnation", increasing personal impoverishment. If generativity wins, then the nightmare of deadbeat staffrooms in 2006 is groundless. Far from being an army of elderly Viagra-crunchers with artificial hip joints, teachers could be at the height of their professional powers.
What is less exciting is the prospect of trying to recruit enough newcomers. Around 150,000 new teachers will be needed in the decade 2006 to 2016, to replace those retiring. One possible strategy is to winkle out some of those escapees who quit the profession and persuade them back in. If you leave teaching prematurely, you become part of what is officially known as the PIT, the "pool of inactive teachers".
I was reminded of the existence of this substantial cavity by a letter from a teacher suggesting that the teacher shortage could be resolved at a stroke if we used the strategies of the dogs' home for rounding up strays. Brilliant. I suggest we turn the Teacher Training Agency into the Bonzo Recruitment Agency. Each agent will be given a large net and a low-pitched whistle (so that older ex-teachers with a hearing loss can hear it).
A large "teacher pound" will be set up on the outskirts of major towns. Any stray ex-teachers rounded up can be kept behind secure wire fences, howling away under a large caption saying "Remember: a teacher isn't just for Christmas", as they wait for a desperate head looking for someone to teach maths.
Individual cages will also allow customers to hand-pick a teacher for a particular purpose: solemn-looking Bassett-hound types to replace the staffroom cynic; sleek sheepdogs for playground duty and escorting field trips; frisky terriers to worry away at problems until they are solved. If there are insoluble crises, recruits from Bonzo can always cock a leg at them.
Senior teachers can be collected from a special pound, looked after by an agent known as "Deputy Dawg". If you want a deputy head responsible for pastoral care, I recommend our Alsatian type, obedient, solicitous, but with teeth when needed. We can supply the occasional Rottweiler, but only under licence.
Headteachers looking for teachers who are utterly compliant will like our selection of poodles and lapdogs. If you want someone determined, able to collect in test scores and exam marks assiduously, badgering teachers who fail to return them on time, then I can recommend one of our many bulldogs.
Should your need be more for someone to fizz around chasing every trendy new idea, choose one of our whippets. If you require a teacher who is willing to run round in circles for no purpose whatsoever, our greyhounds would be ideal. Free mechanical hare supplied.
All our recruits will normally be indistinguishable from other teachers in the school. Should you want to know whether a Bonzo Agency teacher is in your midst, however, there is one big giveaway. If you whistle, their ears prick up and they come rushing over to you, panting. Unless that's the head on Viagra.