How balanced is your teaching staff?
Young and inexperienced teachers dominate teaching. Generally speaking, teaching is a young person’s game. It’s a point that John Tomsett makes in his book This Much I Know about Lover Over Fear when he says, ” – we have 112 teachers, and, at the age of 50, only four of them are older than me.”
Teaching demands a lot from us physically and mentally and unsurprisingly many teachers are feeling worse for wear and are ‘eyeing the exit’ quite early on in their careers. Many thousands of great teachers have already left, damaged by a system that has used and abused them.
In a recent survey of 1500 teachers by specialist recruiter Randstad, it was found that the age of apathy was most prevalent in teachers aged 31-45 and that 1/3 of teachers over 40 planned to leave teaching in the next year. Clearly many teachers are disillusioned, and crippling workloads and a poor work-life balance have played their grotesque part, but we’ve got to reboot these teachers and make sure they stay in the system – we can’t keep losing experience!
Only 48 per cent of teachers in England have more than ten years’ experience, compared to an average of 64 per cent. England also has had one of the fastest reductions in the proportion of teachers aged over 50 in secondary education between 2005 and 2014.
With so little experience in the profession and with many leaving every year, children aren’t getting a balanced education.
Children need experience. They also need inexperience. They need both and everything in between.
But experience matters and having a school full of young teachers is not good. It’s not good in the sense that a school full of experienced teachers wouldn’t be healthy either. Neither would an all-female or all-male staff. There has to be a balanced plate of food full of diverse characters with a variety of experiences to feed the system. As John Tomsett says:
“We mustn’t be seduced by the cult of youth or blinded by the dogmatism of experience. Like most successful things, schools need a blend of youth and experience and then the structures to enable both to learn from each other.”
Experience clearly matters, which is why it is wonderful to see schools embracing this experience and not helping people find the door, or retire before their time.
Let’s Be Frank … And Marion Too
Age should be no barrier to teaching. There is one teacher in Nashville in the United States who gets my respect. His name is Frank Michanowicz and he is still teaching at the age of 91 years. There are very few teachers in the world still working at this age which makes ‘Mr Frank’ wonder: “If they’re good at what they do, they should be there helping them out because the children need us.”
Some people don’t want to retire despite the demands of the job. Then there is Marion Bryan, also aged 91, she’s still teaching too and five days a week at that. She gets children’s attention by wearing a seatbelt around her waist and rapping lyrics. “I tell them that learning is like packing a suitcase for life’s journey.”
Teaching Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas
We should be pushing for more teachers to ‘stay on’. Teachers with 30+ years experience have tens of thousands of flying hours and air miles under their belts and we need to make sure we keep hold of them. If someone wants to keep on teaching then we should let them, not retire them, make them redundant or let them become victims of apathy.
An obvious implication of high rates of turnover, and short teaching careers, is that the substantial resources invested in initial teaching training will involve significant amounts of waste. If those resources could be allocated better to the teachers who stay for longer, through raising the levels of effective CPD undertaken later in careers, overall teaching quality might be raised and more might stay.
We desperately need experienced teachers.
We shouldn’t allow teaching to be a job you do enthusiastically in your twenties, burn yourself out in your thirties and then bow out of with a mental illness in your forties. We need the nonagenarians like ‘Mr. Frank’ and Mrs. Bryan too: they are powerhouses of wisdom and life that we just cannot waste.
Be a ‘Mr. Frank’ or a Mrs. Bryan and change the demographic of your school.