“There are so many people in their fifties who are either redundant or fed up with what they’re doing. Why isn’t there an organisation that helps persuade them that teaching might be something for them?”
Lucy Kellaway has worked as a Financial Times journalist for 30 years. For many of those years, she has anatomised and poked fun at corporate culture, which has given her a unique insight into the mindset and motivations of City professionals reaching the latter stages of their careers.
Now she wants those professionals to think about joining her by leaving the rat race to take the plunge into teaching.
Kellaway has co-founded a new charity, Now Teach, to tempt other high-flyers at or near the end of their careers to help address the teacher recruitment crisis by switching to teaching. She will start teaching maths in a “challenging” London secondary school next year.
Inspired by Teach First
Explaining why she set up the charity, she says she was inspired by Teach First, where her daughter trained to be a teacher four years ago.
However, while Teach First offered a new route into the profession for high-performing graduates, there didn’t seem to be a similar gateway for people reaching the end of their career.
“It seems to me there is no organisation that is thinking specifically about their needs in terms of support…in terms of marketing, selection, the whole thing. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
From the response that Now Teach has received since it was launched, she is confident that there is a pool of candidates out there to be supported.
“It’s tapped into a real theme of, I think, disaffection among older people who have been doing corporate jobs,” she says.
'I think we have a sort of resilience that comes with age'
Kellaway argues that there are a number of things late career professionals can bring to the classroom that others might not be able to offer.
They have “a deep knowledge of the outside world”, she says. “The stories you can tell kids about the world are very different to those you might have if you’ve been a teacher all your life.”
Contacts are another plus. “If you’ve been quite successful in something else, you can pick up the phone and arrange things for the kids: speakers, work experience.”
On the question of whether career switchers could improve leadership, Kellaway stresses that her recruits will not be lecturing experienced teachers on how to do their jobs.
“We’re being very, very clear that if anybody thinks that they can march into school on day one and say ‘oh, this isn’t being very well run’, then they’ve just got another thing coming.
“But equally, anybody who has earned the respect of the other teachers by learning how to be a teacher themselves…their additional leadership [skills] could be very significant in some of the schools.”
The barrier of teacher pay
As far as potential barriers to the success of Now Teach are concerned, she accepts that first-year teacher salaries could be too low for some experienced professionals used to more generous pay packets.
But the journalist argues that her generation could be insulated from the impact by their property ownership.
“It’s my feeling that the late-stage career changers may be better placed to take a very large pay cut than the early mid-career changers, because my generation got into housing when that was affordable.”
As to whether Now Teach is a good use of resources – given that many of the career changers will be approaching retirement age and might not be in the profession for very long – Kellaway is bullish.
She argues that teachers are already getting “very burned out” and leaving the profession early and young. Her generation will be able to “at least match the average” career duration for teaching, she claims.
“I understand that the average length of time that anybody spends in the teaching profession is only five years. I’m going to be 58 when I start – that takes me up to 63 and I’ll already be matching the average.”
Asked whether she’s ready for what awaits her in the classroom, Kellaway admits “I don’t think you’re ever fully prepared”.
However, she thinks that those who are coming to the end of their careers have often acquired a certain resilience.
“There are different sorts of stresses that we have learned to deal with. I’m not saying that they’re worse than being a teacher – they’re different.
“But I think that we have a sort of resilience that comes with age – at least, I’m hoping that’s true because I’ll certainly need it.”