Avoiding The Black Death in Middle-Age

The diary of a new teacher (aged 50ish)

When Fiona Milligan retrained in her fifties, she imagined the kids would think her wise — then she started work

With hindsight it was more hubristic than altruistic. Like the two-score of middle-aged professionals who have volunteered themselves for the Now Teach experiment, I thought my 25-year career in publishing, a desire to do something laudable with the last decade of my working life, and a belief that I could be useful made me ideal for late-onset teacher training. Even better than a wide-eyed graduate, with their memory of school still fresh and their optimism undimmed, I would bring expertise, wisdom and authority to the job.


I still spend much of my time thinking about the job. Twenty-five years in teaching left me with a sore that was irritable and difficult to itch. I read this article from the beginning of the month and thought about the motivations that people would have in order to go into this profession. Doing something worthwhile was high on my list; the holidays also sounded attractive. Having now all but left it, I feel sad. Probably like Adam and Eve felt when they were kicked out of Eden and allowed to live in the real world.

But correct me if I am wrong, wasn’t there a great big bloody snake in the garden?

Supply is the thing for me at the moment, but I am not getting much of it. I can only presume that teaching has suddenly become a lot less stressful. Nobody is taking time off to have mini-physical and nervous breakdowns. I read the wise words of a new headteacher who had taken over at a the last school I worked at, before my episode, and she was effusive about the fact that illness amongst teachers had dramatically fallen since the place had become part of a Multi-Academy-Trust (MAT). I mentioned this to another former teacher from the same school and he suggested that people were too scared to be ill any more. Presumably MAT means that teachers’ rights can be walked upon.

Teaching is a ridiculously difficult profession. It demands people skills, self-deprication, a fundamental belief in bettering society, a resistance to bullshit, and acceptance of bullshit, an acceptance of one’s own inability to perform at Outstanding levels (for much of the time), an acceptance that you are only human (even thought some of your charges may think otherwise), an innate understanding that the crud will rise to the top and that it is virtually impossible to remain at the bottom without eventually being scraped off.

Another prerequisite is to constantly remind oneself that there is a bloody big snake sliding around in the place that used to be a garden. 


Below is a little conversation between two readers of the article that I have cited:

Reader 1 


Well, it’s nice to have the level of workload confirmed. But – and I have no intention of being cruel here – you say you can’t operate the technology, caouldn’t take a register, can’t remember names, or what homeworks you set. Honestly, would you accept similar excuses from your GP? Would you be happy to be operated on by a surgeon with similar memory lapses and technological incompetence? Teaching is still – in my eyes and despite some media and public disagreement – a profession, requiring specific skills and knowledge. It’s never been a job where an adult can rely on the kids being nice and then winging it. But people still see it this way, and as long as they do it won’t be treated as the important and valued profession it deserves to be.

Reader 2


She’s talking about the beginning of teaching, when you have million things to do for the first time in front of 30 students who wish to see you fail. All it takes is for the technology to misfire and you’ve had it. A GP does not face a gang of bored and unmotivated (and sometimes malicious) teenagers – so your analogy is completely bogus. 

The point is the skills of teaching are hard-won: you do not arrive fully-formed in the classroom. It is arrogant to assume someone is winging it because they struggle. You try meeting 6 new classes of 30 students on day one and being expected to know who they are on day two. Your view reinforces the ignorant position that many teachers are just lazy: can’t do, ergo teach. So teachers have to face not only a monstrously hard and thankless task, but hostility from other adults who condemn them when the struggle. 

The same adults usually wouldn’t have the guts to try it themselves.


Now, I know which one I agree with.


And yet, I miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the battles that rage between some students and  teachers. I don’t miss the ‘friendly drop-ins’ by senior or middle leaders. I don’t miss the extreme exhaustion brought about from having to handle an unchecked mass of disruptive and disrespectful adolescents whose rights are paramount and whose wrongs are ignored. I don’t miss the professional ‘one-up-manship’ that comes from the belief that one teacher is better than another or liked most by the kids or the management. I don’t miss the pseudo-corporate crap that dictates that suits and ties and a complete dedication towards ones own personal promotion and self-aggrandisement should be reason enough to be a bastard to others.

Finally, I don’t believe in the pursuit of perfection that is laughingly called ‘Outstanding’ and the culling that needs to take place as an offering to the Gods of Progress before this can be achieved.

Since becoming a supply, or substitute, teacher I have realised just how powerless one can become in a school where acceptable behaviour has gone the way of the dodo. It is a experience that new teachers must go through as a rite of passage, but not everyone makes it through. Each new day of supply is seasoned with just a little fear. Fear is good in this instance as it keeps you on your toes; relax and they’ll have you. It’s a shame that people’s definition of a good teacher is now grounded in ones ability to control or to impose the stages of sanctions that magically bring about improvements in ‘cordial and productive learning episodes’.



If we think that teaching is mainly about imposing one’s will upon others, be they teachers of students, it all becomes a little Fascistic and far from the ideal of opening minds to better possibilities. 

3 thoughts on “Avoiding The Black Death in Middle-Age

Add yours

  1. Here HERE! Short-sighted NON-thinking like comment #1 is probably the best “proof” of how broken our education system actually IS (and about to get MUCH worse with the Corporate Capitalist pretenders to the Education throne in charge).
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

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