What keeps me awake at night - Those who can teach can't get work

25th November 2011 at 00:00

I was one of those crazy people swayed by the seductive charm offensive of the Labour government in the late Nineties. Education, education, education. We all remember that mantra. Oh yes, we'll give you lots of money if you want to become one of those esteemed and hallowed people who have the opportunity to influence future generations.

From the deep peace of my non-school laboratory bench, disturbed only by the occasional noise of the nearby centrifuge, a small seed took root in my mind. My children were teenagers. I had a great relationship with them and their friends. I was a volunteer with a special-needs charity. I loved my subject (chemistry) and there was a shortage of science teachers. I seemed to be the sort of person the government was looking for.

I began to think of the teachers who had influenced me. Mrs Dolan, my Year 6 teacher who refused to let me be lazy and encouraged my fledging sense of ambition. And I can still see Mrs Guckian in her oak-panelled lab. It was she who instilled in me my love of chemistry. I wanted to draw children into learning the way these women did for me. So in the end I succumbed to these ads. Yes please! I want to be one of these special people.

Ten years down the line I, like many others, am struggling to find employment. I used to earn a decent living from supply teaching. I had a good reputation. I was turning work down. Then I made the mistake of taking a year out.

Now, despite calls and emails, I am lucky to get half a day's pay per month. I thought when I became a teacher I would never again have to fill in a benefits form. Most months I am dependent on the #163;200 of care allowance I can claim for a family member.

Work that used to go to qualified teachers is now given to higher-level teaching assistants. I am confused as to what successive governments are trying to do to education. Everyone says they respect the teachers yet they seem to be doing so much to denigrate and devalue them.

Supply teachers are increasingly at the mercy of agencies that offer a fraction of the wages available on the main pay scale.

I feel sorry for the newer teachers who have huge student debts. They must wonder why they entered the profession. I lose sleep at night when I think, "How will I live in 10 years?" My pension will be miniscule. I made the mistake of entering teaching in my 40s. At the age of 54, and in this economic climate, there is little chance of another career change.

I feel betrayed by the heads who are happy to put unqualified people in front of classes. Years ago you just needed a certificate of education to teach; then it became a degree. If things keep on at the present rate an NVQ will be all you need.

There is an e-petition on the Directgov website proposing only qualified teachers should be allowed to take classes. Write to your MP. Write to Mr Gove. Our profession has taken so many knocks. Let's make our voices heard.

The writer is an unemployed teacher in Norfolk. To tell us what keeps you awake at night email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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