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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. I understand what you mean. I am a few years ahead of you in life and dozen years behind you in the classroom. Entering my 21st year as a professional educator, I am just beginning to figure it out. I don’t have all the answers, but I realize how important it is to be an inspiration to a young person who is just beginning to explore their possibilities. I have a few more years before I can comfortably retire. I head back next week and the kids arrive the following Monday. It’s gonna be a great year. Enjoy the waning days of summer break.

  2. I earnestly wish you a happy birthday and thank you once again for the support and advice you gave me a few years ago. I’m glad you feel so positive about education – your point about it needing a long time see the larger perspective on the job is certainly one that resonates here. Unfortunately, many of those with power in the profession still seem to lack such perspectives.
    I envy you the luxury of making the decision that you have: in my case, it was precisely the same experience of our work falling into perspective that led me in a direction that my own school deemed unwanted, and to its stoking the situation that led to me taking *my* 55th birthday earlier this year unemployed, without an income and unable to return to teaching because of the residual mental instability. Yet I do not seem to have a strong enough case to access an early pension within an assessment system that is driven more by cost than real need.
    I too have not taken my pension despite the above, because to do so would have too severe an impact on its value in later life when it will be more needed. So we currently survive on my wife’s income and what little freelance income I can earn.
    I have come back to some teaching by way of offering adult classes at my home in the evenings, and it has reminded me that I still enjoy teaching – and am good at it, no matter what others thought.
    Why am I telling you this? Certainly not to take the wind out of your sails as you enjoy the mellowness of this moment of impending later-life, – but so that others reading can be reminded that the same system that has largely treated you well has another side to it too, that can put people in a very different place simply for doing what you did: advocating what they believe in, trying to do a good job with a clear conscience.
    I know you, John, have always championed the well-being of your staff, and we need more like you – but it is still by no means a universally benign profession to work in.

  3. Happy birthday John and I am personally and professionally pleased you are not ready to retire yet.

  4. Good for you John but now that I am 68 and having had ten years of active retirement, I look back and think how lucky I am to have had more time to support my daughters. Last week we celebrated the marriage of the elder one who made a speech, thanking us both for giving her a good start in life. Spending more time worrying about the parlous state of education could not have bought me that. I may have an actuarily-reduced pension but do you know what? I have treasures worth far more than money.

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