A year from now I will not be at my desk at the Financial Times writing mocking columns about the madness of corporate life. I will be standing in front of a classroom of teenagers in an inner London school teaching them the basic rules of trigonometry.
There are various things about this change of career that are irregular. One is that I’m doing it rather late – I’ll be 58 when I start. Another is that I am making this announcement rather early. I’m not actually off until July.
The reason I’m giving so much notice is I want to persuade you to jack in whatever you are doing and come with me.
Or rather I want to persuade you if you are a) of a certain age, b) doggedly determined, c) based in London, and d) fancy the idea of teaching maths, science or languages, where the shortage of teachers is worst.
During the past few months, in cahoots with people who know what they are doing, I’ve been setting up an organisation to encourage bankers, lawyers and accountants to spend the rest of their careers in the classroom. Our outfit is called Now Teach, and aims to do a version of what Teach First has done so brilliantly – convincing the brightest graduates that teaching is a cool and noble thing to do before trotting off to work for McKinsey/PwC/Goldman – only the other way round.
We want to convince people who have spent a career at McKinsey or wherever that teaching is a cool and noble thing to do afterwards.
Not everyone thinks this is a great idea. When I told my fellow columnist
about it he looked at me in befuddlement.
“Let me see if I’ve understood,” he said, brow furrowed. “You are leaving a job you are good at, where you get money, praise, freedom, glamour and flexibility. You are swapping it for something that is less well paid, difficult, has no freedom, no glamour, is intensely stressful and you may be rubbish at it. Or am I missing something?”
The answer, Gideon, is yes you are.
Nobody can go on doing the same thing forever. In most jobs two decades is plenty. I’ve stuck at mine for 31 years because my job is the nicest in the world. But even so, it has been long enough. With jobs, as with parties, it is best to leave when you are still having a good time.
For me, the thought of starting over, learning something that is new and terrifyingly hard is part of the point. So is the thought of being in a staffroom with colleagues who are my children’s age.
But the biggest thing, which readers may find hard to swallow given my entire career has been based on ridiculing others, is that, for my next act, I want to be useful. Yes, I know sticking pins in pompous chief executives is useful in a meta kind of way but that’s not the kind of useful I have in mind.
A few months ago I wrote a column pointing out that there were hardly any 50-somethings left in banking, corporate law or most managerial jobs. Underneath, a prescient
reader wrote: time for Teach Last? It is time.
Schools need teachers. My generation has mostly paid off mortgages; we have pensions and can afford a pay cut. We will live until we are 100, and will work into our 70s.
If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom all day, teaching kids my favourite subject.
Various people have protested that it won’t work as my generation will be hopeless at controlling unruly teenagers. But I’m not dumping myself and fellow Now Teach recruits in schools unsupported. We are in partnership with Ark, the educational charity, which knows how to train teachers. I’ve sat in on some of its sessions and have learnt how to stand, and what to do with my voice to make kids behave. I’ve practised in front of the mirror: I almost managed to scare myself.
For now I'm banning all FT readers from emailing me to say goodbye as I'm not off yet. I'm staying until the summer and, even then, will not be making a clean break. I will go on writing for the FT,whenever I have a spare minute from all that trigonometry.
Instead, I want only to hear from people who have a view on Now Teach.
Better still, I want to hear from anyone who is ready to chuck in the corporate life and come with me. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016