This article by Emma Kell published in the TES 3rd March 2018

Those who train to become teachers later in life bring with them a wealth of experience and skills – schools need to welcome them with open arms, writes one secondary teacher
A couple of years ago, I found myself at an assistant headteacher interview. At 42, it didn’t take long to establish that I was the oldest person in the room by at least a decade. With brilliant superheads in their mid-twenties and high-profile fast-track leadership courses, you’d be forgiven for imagining teaching is very much a young person’s game these days.

The teacher crisis doesn’t require empty cries for unity but practical solutions. So, when Now Teach’s Sarah Shaw called me to talk about the work she and her team are doing to get experienced, successful professionals from other professions into teaching later in life, I responded with interest.

To be in a room for an informal session with people less likely than usual to accidentally call me “mum” was tempting. And when I found myself in central London, with a slice of pizza and a glass in my hand before I’d even got my coat off, I was assured that I was in good company.
I explained to the group that the reason I was so excited to meet them was that I thought what they were doing – and inspiring others to do – was a powerful, practical solution to the “teacher crisis” that I explore in my book, How To Survive. I’d put together various shamelessly stolen nuggets and tough lessons I’ve learned in the last 20 years and, as I talked through these, a couple of things really struck me:This group doesn’t need to be told how lucky the profession is to have them. They know they have a lot to offer – that’s why they’ve made this decision. The whole point is that they don’t need platitudes – they just want to get on with “making a difference”. They bring with them a wealth of skills and experience that schools ignore at their peril.

Teachers aren’t perfect. I found myself, as I spoke, admitting that we can be very inefficient with time and paperwork, duplicating information is the major bête noir which came up during the evening. We are brilliant at “having ideas”, but not always so great at following them through. And, for all sorts of valid reasons, we find feedback, especially when it’s less than glowing, quite difficult to swallow. We can be what my husband occasionally calls “work martyrs”. Many of us – sheepish hand up – can be quite defensive at times. It’s because we’re passionate. It’s because we’re sick of being criticised.
I have spent my entire adult life, apart from the odd holiday or weekend, in educational institutions. I am, I realised last Thursday, entirely, scarily institutionalised. On that night, I had to admit that not only did I not know the answer, but also I’d never been a position to consider answers to the questions:

How can schools learn from companies which operate free of hierarchies?
How can schools learn more from the NHS about teamwork and challenge insularity in teachers?
What impact, beyond the classroom, can experienced professionals from other areas expect to have in school?

According to my research for How to Survive, accomplished professionals who choose to teach risk being branded troublemakers or mavericks. They’ve been told off by people a third of their age for failing to follow “protocols”. Or if they make their school leaders feel uncomfortable, it’s sometimes easier to call them “odd” and wait for them to go away.

In NowTeach, we have a real and exciting opportunity to do something to address the teacher shortage. We cannot afford to waste this. It might mean being challenged more often than is comfortable. It might mean that “this is how we do it” isn’t always a valid response to questions about procedures. It might mean not being liked.
But these people are lawyers, journalists, astronauts. Being liked really isn’t their priority. They have made this significant life-changing decision because they want to make a real difference to young people in challenging schools. So, even if it means acknowledging that they’re worth a few more pounds than younger NQTs, it’s essential that we grab this opportunity with open arms.

Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching

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