I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about why I am not taking my pension (even though I could).
A teacher’s 55th birthday is significant. At 55 years old a teacher can apply to take his pension early. At 2.20 am today I turned 55.
Good people have chosen to “go early”, and after teaching for 93 consecutive school terms – over half of those as a secondary headteacher – I can see the attraction. A life filled with family, fishing, writing, golf, volunteering and the odd bit of edu-consultancy is pretty attractive.
But, I don’t feel ready to quit the classroom quite yet. And here are three reasons why…
- I still love the core part of the job – teaching! I have a whole load of advantages that come with the designation of headteacher, for sure, but just the sheer satisfaction I get from teaching well – teaching with as much energy, expertise and enthusiasm as I have ever done, teaching with moral purpose front and centre – is enough on its own to keep me in the classroom.
- It has taken me this long to put the job in perspective and I don’t want to give up now. I have always rejected the phrase work-life balance; I prefer work-home balance. I am not defined by my job, but it is an important part of who I am. Despite the financially challenging times ahead, I can only do the very best job I can, but that is all I can do – no more. It is an attitude I emphasise to my colleagues frequently and it helps create a workplace environment that is challenging but, ultimately, supportive and humane.
- The first book I read this summer was Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. As sometimes happens, an author articulates what you have worked out yourself about life, but with a clarity you could only dream of; so it is with Frankl. The Auschwitz survivor defines “three main avenues on which one arrives at a meaning in life”: creating a work or doing a deed; finding someone to love; and, lastly, by turning a personal tragedy into a triumph. I don’t know if teaching is the best job in the world, but it is surely one of the best in terms of finding meaning in your life. I think I still have a lot to do in education (and in life generally), on all three of Frankl’s avenues.
So, on this personally momentous day, my 55th birthday – “how did it get so late so soon?” – I am enjoying my holiday whilst feeling genuinely inspired by the academic year ahead.
My pension can stay where it is for now.