Should the Government retrain retired people as teachers?

Alice-Azania Jarvis wonders how elderly sirs and misses will go down with today's kids

While teaching a recent GCSE physics class about the transformation of energy, Dominic Moorhouse illustrated his lesson by recounting how a Challenger 2 battle tank converts chemical energy, in the form of diesel, into electrical energy as it powers up and, finally, kinetic energy as it hits the road.

What might have been a run-of-the-mill science lesson became, for the students at the West Sussex all-boys school where Moorhouse works, something altogether more exciting.

"If you demonstrate how a subject is used, you show that it's more than something to be memorised for a test," he says. "And boys love army things."

Moorhouse was drawing on his 20 years' experience as a mechanical engineer in the army. He didn't train to be a teacher until he was 49 – and didn't begin teaching until he was 51. Though his age made him unusual among his fellow trainee teachers, it also, he says, offered an advantage: "I can talk about how science is used in the real world."

James Williams, a lecturer in science education at Sussex University, says an increasing number are coming to the profession late in life. "The average student used to be in their 20s," Williams says. "Now they're in their 30s, with some in their 50s."

Still, if the Government followed through on a proposal this week to encourage retirees to retrain and undertake second careers in education, it would initiate a dramatic shift in the profile of the typical teacher. Currently, nearly a third of teachers are under 30.

Even at 53, Moorhouse is a decade younger than the pensioners who'd be targeted under the "Teach Seniors" scheme reportedly put forward by the Conservative Party's influential 2020 Group of MPs.

Reaction to that proposal has been mixed. Training teachers is an investment; in England, nearly 40 per cent of new starters leave the state system within six months. The older the teacher, the shorter his or her potential career. Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has declared it to be "blatantly impractical".

Nonetheless, is there something to be said for embracing more teachers with the gravitas, the wisdom, that age can bring?

Maria Warren, 65, believes so. She retired from teaching secondary physics aged 56. Within a year, she became restless. Now she teaches at the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk – and has no plans to stop soon.

"There's a respect for older people," she says. "Pupils listen to you in a way they might not otherwise."

She does, however, warn that the physical demands of the job are considerable: "Teachers work all hours God sends. If you have experience, you'll have coping strategies – if you're just starting, you'll need a lot of energy."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Allen, of the University of London's Institute of Education, warns that there can be a tendency, among late starters, to assume that teaching is an act of benevolence – rather than a full-time job with all the demands of one.

Allen says: "You get some who talk in terms of 'giving back to society', when in fact they should be thinking of it as a career in itself, in which they will be working with other professionals."

Another potential problem is presented by the shift in classroom culture that has occurred over the past few decades. The rise of social media and the ubiquity of mobile technology among students has created a whole new sphere of interaction. Bullying, for instance, occurs not just in the playground – but online, too.

For pensioner trainees entering the classroom for the first time since they were pupils themselves, this could be disorientating, cautions Williams. "Kids can seem like foreigners," he says. "The language is different, their priorities are different."

The flipside, he says, is that in fact a bit of generational distance is not necessarily a bad thing. A teacher so tech-savvy that they live-tweet a Friday night out is unlikely to command as much respect. "You get the teachers who are so young and in tune with students that they end up seeming more like a friend than an authority figure," he says.

Ultimately, of course, what separates good teachers from the bad one is not just age, or physical stamina, or familiarity with technology. It is their ability to teach, to fire the imagination of the pupils – a quality they will either have, or not, regardless of age.

As Maria Warren puts it: "Do pensioners have something to offer? Well, that just depends on which pensioner you mean."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living