Monthly Archives: December 2012

Wring out the Old; Burnout the New ?

Despite the apparent pessimism – no, this is really rather optimistic. I think we’re moving upwards and creating something more resilient, more creative and ulimately more sustainable for the profession. Traditional, at this time, to both review and look forward as the two-faced Roman god Janus encouraged the Romans to do as the new year started, giving his name to the month that followed the final, tenth, month of the year. (Oct-, Nov- Dec- ; 8, 9, 10. It was the Caesars, Julius and Augustus who were the originators of ‘I’ll just write that into my calendar’ when the Romans decided to go for the full dozen).
This year I hit the age when I could take a pension. That is sobering on a number of levels. It would be an ‘actuarially reduced’ pension, but I know of others who are going at 55, for whom the financial hit is less than the mental ones they don’t wish to absorb any more. The piece that has stayed with me longer than most is ‘What keeps me awake at night’ in the TES a few weeks ago. The writer was in a dilemma about what to do about a teacher approaching the latter years of their career and whether they should be eased out due to their intransigence at updating their skills, or be allowed to eke out their final terms after a lifetime of classroom service, competence-lite. Gerard Kelly’s editorial went for the Chris Woodhead approach (-the second head of Ofsted. Sir Michael is a pet lamb in comparison). The writer was more sympathetic, going with the rather more hallowed ‘Do as you would be done by’. I have flipped and flopped over this one. Would I want a surgeon who was still using operating techniques from the 1980s to be working on a loved one – or insist that the newest (Ok – not that new) face on the rounds should be in theatre using the very latest keyhole? But then again where do you stop on this one. Are we to be like my multi-national oil company brother-in-law who is pensioned off as soon as he passes the peak of his performance curve? (How many golf balls can you hit from age 50. But the annual compensatory pension is greater than I’ll ever earn in a bunch of years).
I’m also conscious that colleagues are staggering under the prospect of being required to teach until they are 68. Yes – I understand the logic, extended life-expectancy is one of those good news/bad news jokes. Hey – you’re going to live longer. Only nobody’s told your body. The success-criteria of ageing: high blood-pressure, diabetes, gall-stones, over-/under-active thyroid, dodgy hips/knees/eyes/hearing, cancer scans….. they are all working to the old regime. We’ll just be living (- and hence, teaching-) with them for longer. What to do? The prospect of increasing numbers of older colleagues fearing competency procedures is very likely. Spun out. Wrung out. Hung out.
And then, looking the other way, how is it for teachers new to the profession? I declare an interest here. My daughter is in her second year teaching English in a secondary school in York surrounded by as supportive a department of colleagues as you could wish for, an inspirational head of department and SLT and headteacher who create their own culture, acting as an essential buffer to the vagaries of external forces. But there are too many young teachers buckling – or just opting – from the fray of unrealistic demands that some regimes attempt to submit them to. I’m hearing of too many who are – in their late twenties when they should be reaching potential – baling out. No mortgages, no place commitments, they question the pervading public kicking teachers get, the demands under-pressure heads put on their time, and they say they have a life to live and this isn’t the one they thought they were choosing. Burnout by thirty – it’s too common and far too expensive in lots of currencies.
So what to do? Pathways for one: we need to offer older teachers pathways through the later years in the job. There aren’t going to be many who can still do it with panache in the classroom at 67. But will they need to? A pension system based on /57th increments each year means that many will achieve a half-salary pension by 60. Part-time teaching, reduced teaching but increased mentoring (of students, colleagues, those new to responsibility positions), coaching, becoming TAs, producers of resources and/or schemes of work, department/school administration providers, intervention specialists….. finding what we can – and want to do, and balancing it against reduced income needs is the route we need to start contemplating to manage those final years constructively and put the accumulated experience to good effect in a multi-layered role.
And for teachers who have decades in the profession? I’m not the only one who has been refreshed and inspired by the ideas I’ve encountered on twitter. But also had resolution stengthened. An aim for 2013 is to develop robustness in the people I work with. That will be a challenge: developing their capacity to argue back at me and present cases to challenge proposals I may put forward. But that’s how we’re going to get through present – and future – perfidious influences. We have to develop our own inner strength borne of introspection, reflection, questioning of what we can sustainably improve upon and seeking refreshment of ideas from the likes of twitter and teachmeets. Heads and SLTs need to be robust to Ofsted; heads of subject to SLTs; and individual teachers to their managers. Participatory resilience combined with an engagement with new teaching and learning approaches whilst holding on to that which we know, through practice and refinement, works – that is the modus operandi that will be required. Teaching is a creative profession built upon organic teams of specialists, accountable and calling others to account – and requiring the best performances that are sustainable throughout a long career that doesn’t end up being kill or cure. 2013 – I’ll be going into my final years energised by the network of ideas I’ve encountered from young and not-so-young inspirational minds that are driven by a deep conviction to share and network. Robust, resilient, interacting, creative practitioners who will form the backbone of the profession for an assertive future. That’s a future I kind of like the sound of going in to.


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