It was lunchtime in our staff room and I was sat reading, oblivious to the conversation around me.
The voice of one of our twenty-something teachers caught my attention, “Ian’s sat reading his phone.”
“I am. It’s a very good piece in the FT.”
“What’s the FT?”
“The Financial Times,” commented one of the other teachers.
“Ian! Why do you read the Financial Times?” asked the twenty-something.
“Because it tells the truth – and the piece is not about money, it’s about teaching. It’s about ageism in teaching.”
Ageism was a topic to interest a group of twenty-somethings and the conversation moved on.
But why shouldn’t ageism exercise the minds of twenty-somethings just as much as other forms of prejudice arouse indignation? It is a question Lucy Kellaway asked in a column in January about her experiences in schools.
Five years ago, at the age of fifty-seven, Kellaway founded a charity called Now Teach to draw older people into teaching. Believing there were many people of ability and experience retiring from professional positions, Kellaway sought to draw them to the classroom.
I remember reading at the time her account of the beginning of the project and wish now that I had thought more about the hurdles she suggested that people would encounter. In the most recent column, she recounts the ageist comments made to her by her own colleagues, remarks they think are amusing, but which count as discrimination just as much as any other expression of prejudice.
I remember starting my own teacher training at a school in Weston-Super-Mare in September 2018. The woman appointed as my mentor told me that she couldn’t understand why I had begun teacher training, I was unsuitable because I was far too old.
At the time, I just shrugged and carried on. If anything it spurred me on to complete the training and to prove her wrong. But now, reading of Lucy Kellaway’s conversations, I wonder why I didn’t challenge her blatant prejudice.
What if I had been African and she had said I was far too black for the job? Or if I had been Pakistani and she had said I was far to Muslim? Or if I had been in a wheelchair and she had said I was far too disabled? Such expressions of prejudice are repugnant, but so is ageism.
When appointed to an assistant principal position in December, there was a moment of temptation to write to her and ask about my unsuitability. Now, if there is a temptation at all, it would be to write to the Equality and human Rights Commission to complain of the woman’s flagrant disregard for the legislation that made illegal discrimination on the basis of age. As it is, I think I’ll just shrug and smile and move on.