Teach Now: Teacher Corps for 50-somethings

Financial Times writer Lucy Kellaway, has wrapped up her 30+ year as a journalist, let her hair go gray, and decided to become a secondary school mathematics teacher (or ‘maths’ in U.K. parlance).

Here she is in a TED Talk describing her decision.

Kellaway was droll and feisty as a columnist, usually a ball to read, making wicked fun of FT’s own class of corporate types. Here she is on the inanity of corporate gobbledygook.

In her TED talk she admits to something few journalists might, that she feared her writing wasn’t getting any better, she wasn’t learning anything new, and the job, though posh, hardly made much difference. (Her takedowns of corporate-speak do not seem to have reformed corporate culture, any more than the Dilbert comic strip has.)

So she decided to become a teacher, which, among other things, holds at least the possibility of greater personal meaning and satisfaction. Now in the student-teacher part of her training, she seems willing to assess her performance in class with the same candor that she brought to the subjects of her journalism. (She reports that her charges can’t wait for their regular teacher to return, and the habits of an award-winning journalist are a little slovenly for for the classroom.)

There are some things that are a bit questionable. It seems her effort is vaguely modeled on a British version of Teach for America (the well-intentioned program that places new graduates from elite colleges and universities in schools often for a resume burnishing stint pre-grad school.) Kellaway is past that (she describes her self as “post status” which is a bit laughable; perhaps she thinks three decades on one of the planet’s most prestigious newspapers doesn’t count as status, but status it is.) It’s the status of teachers and teaching that I would hope she focuses on, which is not something that the celebrity returning to teach automatically manages to foreground. (This is not a new phenomena: Tony Danza tried it in Philadelphia a few years back, with a film crew in tow. His teaching career didn’t last (and judging by his amiable incompetence on display in the show, that was a good thing), but to his credit he has stayed connected to the high school and wrote a book about it.

Kellaway gets that teaching is a profession, and a demanding one, and seems to understand the significant amount of work required to achieve mere competence, much less exceptional proficiency. (That her mother and daughter were teachers helps.) That she assumes that accomplished people from professional life in the later decades would take to it and thrive is both an intriguing thought, but should be leavened with a real understanding and respect for people who have been doing it their whole lives, and for whom it was affirmative career choice from day one, and as worthy of respect as any corporate path, not an afterthought.

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