Personally Speaking: Jill Cowley

She's a classroom teacher who loves her job. She doesn't want promotion to management and so she faces being priced out of the profession because schools cannot afford her
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The Independent Online
IT CAME to me in the early hours, that abyss between night and morning when one is most vulnerable, a revelation coming out of the darkness like a kick in the gut on a rugby field. In two years I was to become unemployable, a no-go area for employers, an untouchable, if I wasn't so already.

Let me put you in the picture: I am a teacher, a good one I think, so say my students (when it's my birthday), so says the head (when he's in a good mood and wants me to do him a favour). I like teaching. In fact, at times, when my kids have shown fervour over a poem I've given them or when they've hit on a new higher grade, I would say I love it. I went into it accidentally. After teaching English in Italy for a few years, I came back to England and, falling in love with Cambridge one night after a couple of Margueritas, I decided it wouldn't be a bad thing to do a PGCE there.

What startled me when I began my teaching practice was that I actually liked kids! And over the past few years my affection for them has grown ten-fold. So now I look forward to my days in the classroom. I don't even mind the excessive admin we are forced to do in the name of the national curriculum. But that's because I'm not a head of department, and that leads us to the problem.

In two years' time I will have reached my ninth increment. This, of course, means more money. Not much more, but anything's a bonus when you're a teacher. I will be able to pay my car off and perhaps go on a swanky holiday to the Costa Brava (if I start saving now). But there is one slight hiccup. If I decide to apply for a humble classroom post at another school, for the hell of it, for the experience, for a change of scenery, I will be met with the bleak certainty of rejection. I will be an orphan - an expensive one, since no school (certainly in the state sector) will want to spend pounds 21,000 on a teacher if they can have one for pounds 13,000.

If I were an aspiring head of department then, of course, it would be different. But my forte lies solely in the classroom: my presentation, communication, motivation, differentiation skills, my expertise in persuasion, coercion, manipulation, public relations. I would dearly love to have the capacity to organise a department into delivering the curriculum, to do those extra hours, evenings, weekends of admin that no one hears about, but I just ain't got it! And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

I assumed the one big advantage of teaching (apart from the holidays) was its job security. Everyone remembers a good teacher, and there are numerous vacancies advertised in the national newspapers. So it seemed to be a safe bet. I did my PGCE when I was 25 and, in the past four years, I have paid off my debts and acquired savings of pounds 262.10.

Of late, however, I have been contemplating retirement as a serious possibility. I could, of course, remain at my present abode, Meridian Upper School, Royston, Hertfordshire, until I'm 60. It's a fine school, the kids are absolutely fantastic and some of the staff aren't too bad either. But I am a girl with fire in her feet; I like to do things, to go places, this, perhaps, being one of the reasons why I have succeeded in the classroom. I do not want to become staid in one place for the rest of my days. I would dearly love to see how other schools are run, to encounter other students, to sample other school dinners. But I can't. Not only am I too expensive a commodity now, but there would be questions asked. Why is she still just teaching? Is there something wrong with her?

I spoke about this problem with my colleagues over lunch the other day. They were very sympathetic and tried to console me with the idea of the Green Paper. It's for people like you, they said, who enjoy teaching and who are good at it. You'll be able to buy some more designer dresses with the extra money you'll get. But, I said, I'll be even more of an expensive commodity than I am now when I apply for other classroom posts.

In my panic, I made friends with a recruitment officer in a job agency. She was very nice, telling me how talented and artistic I was, and explaining the benefits of having a good solid work record. But then she told me something which was rather hard for me to digest: the possibility of under- going a career change at 30 was difficult; in fact, she had never been able to help anyone over 35. I smiled at her sweetly before leaving for a stiff gin.

There is one escape route though. I recently saw a job advertised in a newspaper: English teacher wanted, good competitive salary, free accommodation, free flights home and baggage allowance. Perhaps in September I shall break my mother's heart and fly to Abu Dhabi. At least there I will be able to save some cash and prepare for my imminent life on the dole.