‘Why I believe we oldies should be teachers’

Teach last? The author has been practising her teaching skills. © Chris McAndrew
by Lucy Kellaway

Associate editor at the Financial Times. Columnist on management issues whose work usually pokes fun at modern corporate culture, she helped found Now Teach.

I am leaving my comfortable job as a journalist to train as a teacher in an inner London secondary school. I am expecting a tough time — but that is part of the point. And I want people to join me.

A year from now, I will not be at my desk at the Financial Times writing mocking columns about the madness of corporate life. I will be standing in front of a classroom of teenagers in an inner London school teaching them the basic rules of trigonometry.

Various things about this change of career are irregular. I am doing it rather late — I will be 58 when I start. I am making this announcement rather early: I am not actually off until July.

The reason I am giving so much notice is I want to persuade you to jack in whatever you are doing and come with me. Or rather I want to persuade you if you are a) of a certain age b) doggedly determined c) based in London and d) fancy teaching maths, science or languages, where the shortage of teachers is worst.

If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom

During the past few months, in cahoots with people who know what they are doing, I have been setting up an organisation to encourage bankers, lawyers and accountants to spend the rest of their careers in the classroom.

Our outfit is called Now Teach, and aims to do a version of what Teach First has done so brilliantly — convincing the brightest graduates that teaching is a cool and noble thing to do before trotting off to work for McKinsey / PwC / Goldman — only the other way round.

Not everyone thinks this is a great idea. When I told my fellow columnist Gideon Rachman about it he looked at me in befuddlement.

‘Let me see if I’ve understood,’ he said, brow furrowed. ‘You are leaving a job you are good at, where you get money, praise, freedom, glamour and flexibility.

‘You are swapping it for something that is less well paid, difficult, has no freedom, no glamour, is intensely stressful and you may be rubbish at it. Or am I missing something?’

The answer, Gideon, is yes you are. Nobody can go on doing the same thing forever. In most jobs two decades is plenty. I have stuck at mine for 31 years because my job is the nicest in the world. But even so, it has been long enough.

For me, the thought of starting over, learning something that is new and terrifyingly hard, is part of the point. So is the thought of being in a staffroom with colleagues who are my children’s age. But the biggest thing, which readers may find hard to swallow given my entire career has been based on ridiculing others, is that, for my next act, I want to be useful.

A few months ago I wrote a column pointing out that there were hardly any 50-somethings left in banking, corporate law or most managerial jobs. Underneath, a prescient reader wrote: time for Teach Last? It is time. Schools need teachers. My generation has mostly paid off mortgages; we have pensions and can afford a pay cut.

We will live until we are 100 and work into our 70s. If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom all day, teaching kids my favourite subject.

I have learnt how to stand, and what to do with my voice to make kids behave. I have practised in front of the mirror: I almost managed to scare myself. I want to hear from anyone who is ready to chuck in the corporate life and come with me.

This is an extract from a piece originally published in The Financial Times, reprinted with kind permission. Follow the link under Become An Expert to read it in full.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to teach when you are young or when you are old?

Activities

  1. Write a profile of the qualities needed to be a good teacher and rank them in order of importance. Discuss as a class: would you better fit this profile when you were 21 or 58?

Word Watch

Now Teach
An organisation designed to find and train senior professionals — ‘high flyers’, as it calls them — to become teachers, especially of maths, science and languages. The group works closely with educational charity Ark.
McKinsey / PwC / Goldman
Major multinational firms which deal in management consultancy and investment banking, among some of the highest-paying in the world. PwC stands for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Goldman is short for Goldman Sachs.
Age
A report by the OECD in 2013 found that 60% of teachers in classrooms in the UK were under the age of 40; 31% were aged 30 and younger.
Need
There are particularly acute teacher shortages in maths and science. Earlier this year the National Audit Office reported that 28% of secondary physics lessons are taught by teachers with no more than an A-level in the subject.
Live
In some affluent areas of England and Wales, living to 90 is expected to become the norm by 2030, according to a study in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.
Leonard Cohen
A Canadian poet and singer who died earlier this month, aged 82.

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