What keeps me awake at night

4th July 2014 at 01:00

Picture this: a teacher in their late forties or early fifties, still physically fit, starts forgetting the odd thing here and there. They also have some aggressive moments which are totally out of character. This person begins to lose the ability to spell words and to punctuate written work. The ability to read the words remains, but the comprehension of the material starts to falter. The teacher still has a substantial mortgage to pay off and their two children are about to go to university. Under the new rules, they may have to work for two more decades before retirement.

What no one realises is that this person is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which will get rapidly worse. Because the memory loss and aggression have surfaced at some bad moments, the teacher is put on competency measures. The school management now sees an opportunity to get rid of an expensive older member of staff and initiates a campaign of endless observations (which are rated poor because anyone observing even the best teachers can find weaknesses if they want to). Procedure is followed rigorously and all the required steps are taken. The extra pressure serves only to exacerbate the teacher's existing problems and reinforces the case for their removal. The teacher is duly dismissed after the minimum time allowed. They have little chance of re-employment.

This happened to a family member of mine. The relative is now in a home being paid for by assets gathered over a lifetime's scrimping and saving.

If teachers are to work until 68, the diseases that were once considered to be limited to retirement are going to become more prevalent and we will have to deal with situations like this more regularly. Are we going to dismiss teachers as and when problems surface that are made worse by the profession they have served for decades? If we are to make teachers work longer, there must be a better way than simply discarding them.

The writer is a teacher in the Midlands

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk


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