10 May 2009


Please give me your thoughts. I first worked in classrooms at the age of sixteen as an unpaid teaching assistant in the local village primary school. After my A levels, I signed up with Voluntary Service Overseas who jetted me off to the Fiji Islands at the tender age of eighteen to spend a memorable year teaching English, History and Geography at the high school on the remote island of Rotuma. Then it was back to Britain and straight up to the University of Stirling where, after four years, I gained an honours degree in English Studies with Education having undertaken teaching practices in a range of schools including St Mungo's Academy in Alloa and Alva Academy.

I could have stayed in Scotland but I preferred to get back to England. My career hasn't been what you might call meteoric. Over thirty two years, I have taught in just three South Yorkshire schools and for the last fifteen years have been Head of English in my present school. I have been Mr Dependable - never absent, always there, meeting the deadlines, supporting younger colleagues, oiling the wheels. Septembers have come and gone. The conveyor belt in the sausage factory has kept turning. I have given so much of myself, seen so many children and so many teachers come and go...to a point when I am now, in terms of years of service, the longest serving teacher in the school. How did that happen?

I decided some time ago that this academic year would be my last at that school. I just couldn't see myself there at sixty. It would have killed me. I have earned a reasonable pension package -albeit slightly reduced - but it would be easy enough to sign up for another school and put another couple of years in without the intense pressure and scrutiny associated with leadership and management. In fact I saw such a post advertised ten days ago in a school that is much higher up the league table. But do I really want that daily grind any more? Lessons to plan, books to mark, behaviour incidents to challenge and report, deadlines to meet, spreadsheets to fill. Late nights and lost weekends. The emotional toll.

It would help the family moneypot that's for sure but we're okay - no mortgage, some savings, the kids pretty much grown up.

What could I do instead? I could polish up my writings - plays and stories aimed at mid-teenagers. I could design and make mosaics. Return to song-writing and painting. I could sign up to be a temporary supply teacher - just to bring in extra money. Re-establish our vegetable plot. Make a pond. Get fitter. Travel some more - Guyana, Tuvalu, The Leeward Islands, keeping New Zealand for later when Shirley's able to commit six weeks.

I guess that the dilemma that faces me is one which thousands of people in less comfortable circumstances would envy but as the end of twenty three years at my present workplace approaches, I feel a growing sense of apprehension laced with uncertainty. How do you think I should move forward?


  1. Deirdre6:16 am

    Oh I am so so jealous of you...and I am ashamed of myself for that...I have worked in my job for 30 years and have never been someone who was ever going to set the world on fire...I just turn up, do my job the best way I can and look forward to the day that I can leave and look forward to a life after work....but I still have a huge mortgage and a daughter just about to start Uni.,
    ..I am ashamed of not managing my finances better and realise that I will probably have to work until I drop and expect no symapathy for that as I know how lucky I am in so many ways...and I really do wish you well..a friend of mine is also 60 this year after teaching for a long long time, and is off to discover West Coast America for a first 'lets travel now and enjoy life' jaunt.....set forth for anywhere Yorkshire Pudding and just relax!

  2. My email is on its way to you with my thoughts on the subject. :)

  3. Goodness, that's a big ask. But I have a formula now for dealing with those questions when they rise up in my own head. Example: At the end of my life, senility allowing, will I look back and be pleased I worked my arse off beyond the point of pleasure, because it brought in some extra pennies? Will my abiding thoughts of pleasure be linked to my employer/my colleagues/my clients (students/pupils whatever)? Will a little less cash bother me, really? Is time to do some interesting things more precious then employment? What will I regret if I don't do it? In my late/mid forties I now know, as I see people die around me, that you cannot afford to put off the things you want to do, for the sake of an easy life (unless an easy life IS your dream). I know what I'd do in your shoes (give up full time employment, make a plan to do the things I dream of, make sure I can do bits of work if needs must, and DO IT ALL NOW). What will you do?

  4. DEIRDRE Thank you...Hey I'm a long way off sixty my dear. Sorry if I misguided you on that but I do appreciate your encouragement.
    JENNY Thanks for the email... already processed and much appreciated.
    MOPSA Your words, quite literally, brought a tear to my eye. Instinctively, I know that you are so right. Thank you for adding to my strength of purpose.

  5. You know what my thoughts are...

    But just to add to all the good advice, as a former sausage of yours that was well-greased... (English teachers never miss a metaphor, inappropriate or not)

    Enjoy the next phase of your life, relatively stress-free and happy.

    Don't let the male pride rule your head and pocket. it eventually fades anyway when you're having too much fun and relaxation.

    Having said that, a few years' 'success at the league tables' would certainly stick two fingers up at certain people, but you have to ask yourself 'haven't you been more successful in real terms already'?

    Failing these choices come to Bangkok, I believe there is an opening at the Pink Panther club- no league tables involved as far as as I know...

    I'll give you a bell after 'enders tonight...

  6. My goodness, a serious post.

    Someone very wise once said, "Do something you love, then figure out a way to get paid for it."

    If you no longer love teaching, or never did, take your future in your own hands and quit making yourself miserable.

    If there's something else you love more, spend the rest of your life doing that; and even if the money isn't all that good, you'll die with a smile on your face.

    Maybe you're just having a belated mid-life crisis (men do, you know). I was precocious and had mine at age 37. I'm 68 now, and in some ways I'm still having it.

    Or you could just ignore the old guy completely and sail off into the wild blue yonder with Shirley at your side. That's all that really counts anyway, isn't it?

  7. My day is now officially ruined thinking about Yorkshire Pudding and well-greased sausages....

  8. YP: Just so you know, even if you didn't become famous as a teacher (though the restaurant that bears your name is sure to put your name in lights yet), you still made a difference. I am sure that there are students who were thankful that you were their teacher. I think of my own colleagues who had "meteoric" careers, and while that's great for them, it's meant that they have less time for doing what they loved that originally brought them into the profession.

    I think it would be wonderful if you could have more time to write, compose music, paint... People do what they have to when finances are an issue, but if they're not, then I really want to encourage you to do fulfilling things that don't claim your weekends and time with your family.

    Sometimes I think about my previous career as a librarian, and how short a time I spent doing that as opposed to being a mom and working as a freelance storyteller. If I were still in the libraries, we'd have more money, but the schedule imposed would have meant I'd have missed out on watching my daughter grow up.

  9. Keep working until they throw you out; you are clearly NOT cut out for adventure.

  10. craig1:48 am

    My opinion msybe a bit different. After years working as an accountant was getting sick to death of the grind. Had no mortgage wife in full time work. Chucked the job in at 42 and took job as a tram driver and have never looked back. Been there for 7 years now and have never been happier. Even enjoy working shifts.

  11. Here's another true-life (not mine) story. A friend who was a bank vice-president and his wife who owned her own beauty salon chucked it all and became 18-wheeler truck drivers. They drove all over the U.S. for years and loved it. Go, Tom and Pat!

  12. RHYMES WITH LUCK,SAINT FARIDA, CRAIG and (IRONIC) DAVID - Thanks for your words of what I think I could call encouragement. None of my kind contributors cautioned me to take the safe route - earn another year's salary, put money in the bank like a squirrel storing for the cold winter of retirement.... Somehow beachcombing in Zanzibar sounds better. Maybe I'll book my ticket for the first day of the autumn term... Trouble is they can't seem to appoint anybody to fill my shoes. I have the sickening feeling they're going to ask me to stay but I shan't

  13. My advice: sit down and decide what it is you want. Sounds simple but it isn't. Write down all of the different things you want from life - and it sounds like there are a few of them - then try giving them a score, or some other form of weighting of priority.

    Some of these things might include money, freedom to choose what you do and when you do it etc etc.

    Spend a few days doing it and keep going back to it.

    Then when you have emptied your head onto the paper balance it all up and decide what it is that you most want.

    The rest is then easy.

    Good luck! It works for me.

  14. It feels a bit odd to give you advice on this, YP, but since I am a bit odd, here goes:

    If you no longer love what you are doing, stop, and find something you do.

    At this point in my life (I'm 40-started teaching in schools at 33 and plan to teach as long as I'm emotionally/physically able- hopefully at least 25 years), I look at my job and think I am having far too much fun to get paid. Even with the student struggles and the changes and the budgeting woes, I love my job. I am doing the work I love and the work I believe I was meant to do. When I walk into school and behave as some of my colleagues do (miserable), I hope I'll know it is time to leave.

    I think you know what you want...

  15. I'm totally biased but I want you to come and see New Zealand.

    Six weeks isn't really enough.

  16. Some people might say 'seek your dreams' or take a year off and travel the world. I would say keep on working and pay your taxes.

    Unless of course there was something you were planning to do at 17 before you were so rudely interrupted by life/career/mortgage/kids ...

  17. I'd say give up the job and go for it - - whatever it is - - because I so regret not having travelled more in my life (because of a DVT in my late twenties)and regrets are horrible things to have - - A shame for your students though as I'd guess you're an excellent teacher. Damn! Being nice to someone from Sheffield, whatever next?

  18. CROFTY Sound advice sir. Thank you. I will do it though leaving the job has been more about unburdening my life than about pursuing dreams.
    MS GEORGE The turnover of teachers from National Challenge and lower league council estate schools is well-documented. Levels of stress and despondency mean that many would rather get out than suffer just for the monthly salary cheque.
    KATHERINE I just hope my New Zealand isn't like Jude Fawley's Christminster.
    MICHAEL Once again thanks for your useful tips about HK. I said hello to Mui Wo for you. I think that if you had been my shadow at work these past couple of years, you would have been surprised that I have hung in so long.
    DAPHNE Being nice to someone from Sheffield? Hey - I only live here. You have just been nice to someone from the heart of the East Riding! Thanks for your support.

  19. Here's my twopenn'orth:-

    Nobody on their deathbed said "I should've gone to work more..."

    Carpe diem an' all that.

    Good luck whatever you decide.

  20. seeing as you are part of the state perhaps you should carry on untill the state retirement age the rest of us have to work until


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