The life-changing magic of inspirational teachers | Letters

Responding to an article by midlife career changer Lucy Kellaway, Marie Davis reflects on her rewarding late entry into teaching, but Jason Jawando and Matt Cole sound a note of caution. Plus letters from Rev Jennifer Hall and Rev Paul Hutchinson on late ordinations and James Kelso on a brilliant art teacher

Bravo, Lucy Kellaway, for changing careers midlife (Leaving burnout behind: the pain and pleasure of starting a new career in my 50s, 14 July). Initiation by fire, I suspect, especially in secondary schools. I also took the plunge almost 25 years ago and entered primary teaching at 50 when my last child entered school.

Downside – the tiredness, sheer exhaustion when you could sleep for a week at the end of term. Positives – how long have you got?

To teach a young child to read is to gift them a lifetime of pleasure in the written word. To nurture and teach a special needs child is a privilege, and to teach a child how to write a story (nearly as good as JK Rowling’s) is magical.

And then there are the intangible gifts you receive through the rigour of teaching. From being a shrinking violet, I became assertive, my quiet voice able to command discipline (think classroom of 30 children on a rainy day) at the drop of a hat.

Good luck to you, Lucy – you will have already immeasurably changed young people’s lives for the better, and the memories last into eternity.
Marie Davis

• I left a career in the civil service at 49 to retrain as a secondary English teacher. Like Lucy Kellaway, I met scepticism and bemusement from colleagues and friends, and I also thought that my confidence and life experience would make me an inspirational teacher. Unlike her, I was wrong. I realised very quickly that teaching isn’t for me, and left after two months.

That was eight months ago, and I’ve now got a job that I genuinely enjoy, which is much closer to what I was doing in the civil service, while still being different enough to count as a change.

I completely agree that we need to think about the realities of our longer working lives. If someone were to ask my advice about going into teaching later in life, I certainly wouldn’t discourage them, but I would stress how important it is to find out exactly what is involved.
Jason Jawando

• Lucy Kellaway claims that her Now Teach scheme could supply a “mountain of ageing, rootless talent” to fill vacancies in Britain’s schools, as she did after working at the Financial Times.

Unfortunately, all the restless broadsheet columnists in the world won’t match the problem. The demands of teaching mean that we lose four in 10 new trainees within five years, and a third of all teachers plan to leave within the next five. While pupil numbers are growing, the number of staff is shrinking.

If, like Kellaway, you have stored up a much larger previous salary and pension, dispensed with the costs of obligations such as children and housing, and don’t mind your static salary, you may find a foray into teaching an interesting challenge. You will at least be rare.
Matt Cole

• Lucy Kellaway says “I’m hoping to see copycat schemes springing up for nurses and police officers (and perhaps one for clerics that could be called Now Preach)”. The Church of England already has a scheme for training older people as clerics. I was ordained at 65 and am still working at 76, albeit part time and a little slower, and I am not the only one.
Rev Jennifer Hall

• The Church of England has been happy to encourage older vocations for decades. In my parish, a priest now in his 90s was ordained (while still a headteacher) more than four decades ago, and I have a colleague who has just been ordained to unpaid ministry a substantial number of years into retirement. Quite a few in their 50s might still find their way into paid ministry too.
Rev Paul Hutchinson
St Neots, Cambridgeshire

• I had a brilliant art teacher, Mr Smart, at Sloane school, Chelsea, in the 1950s. In “free composition” classes, he would look at your design and say: “You’ve a gap here, my boy, why not put in a bit of bush!” He said the same thing to all the boys. “Bit of bush” became his nickname. I still follow his advice to this day.
James Kelso
Watlington, Oxfordshire

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