Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Short lifetime careers (or why teaching should learn from football)

There are a selection of careers that have a shorter lifetime than those the rest of us pursue. And these careers are often the sexy ones we aspired to do when - as I did - you attend, at age eleven, the 'come dressed as what you want to do when you're grown up' party. Firemen, police officers, soldiers, sportsmen and women, models. And, of course, dancers:
Dancers are notoriously bad at planning for their second acts. They underestimate the age at which they'll retire (the average age of retirement is 34), overestimate the amount of money they'll earn, and misjudge the forces that will end their careers. More than one-third of the dancers in a 2004 survey were driven to retirement by an injury; only 5 percent left because they actually wanted a new career. When dancers enter the workforce in their thirties, many are woefully unprepared. Only 3 percent of current dancers say that teaching dance is their preferred post-retirement line of work, but it's the most common fate: 53 percent end up teaching dance in some capacity.
You could write this script for footballers - we look at the mega-star millionaires of the sport and assume that this goes for all the footballers. But only the most talented reach this height, most footballers - like most dancers - ply their trade in the lower leagues. And while the top Premier League stars earn £1,7m per year on average in lower leagues this plummets to between £40,000 and £70,000. These are good wages on the face of it but not if you reckon that most footballers' careers only last 20 years at most. And like the dancers, these retired footballers all end up earning a (not always very good) living from hanging about the game they played - coaching, physio, commentary.

The problem is that, for all the money in elite sport and arts, there really aren't enough jobs out there to maintain the income levels and living standards that retired and redundant dancers and players got used to. Yet we look at the money involved and howl with horror even though, compared to our economy, the money in football, opera or ballet is a drop in the ocean especially given the pleasure sport and art gives to us all.

This problem - in a related but different manner - also applies to careers such as teaching and social work:
In other words, after ten years or so, one cannot remain in the classroom, one must go either upwards, into management or else sideways into a specialist area … or out. The days of Mr. Chips were long gone. One must be perma-vibrant, relevant and up with the latest fad. Especially with Ofsted bureaucrats breathing down one’s neck.
Much of the reason for this is the idea of career progression and that being a classroom teacher in limiting - at least in financial terms. Even with 'career grade' systems in these professions there remains the pressure on the most experienced teachers to spend less time in the classroom and more time doing other important but non-teaching functions. Same goes for social workers meaning that the most capable and experienced end up trapped in an office managing other social workers. In our system - one that presumes the boss is paid more than the people she manages - the teacher or social worker (perhaps also the salesman and engineer too) ends up as a manager, a consultant or advisor rather than spending time doing the thing that person is trained to do.

And this sort of brings us back to football. In football - probably because it is driven by the needs of the tournament - the people paid the most are the ones delivering the product. That £1.7million wage for the average premier league player reflects two things - the transient nature of his career (every time he steps onto the field he knows it could end) and the essence of the game as a contest between teams of the best. And the best are a rare thing.

In this place no-one suggests to the 27 year-old midfield superstar that his only hope of getting more money is to become a coach or a manager. Yet that is precisely the measure we apply to teachers and social workers even while paying lip service to the idea of a career spent in front of a class or in the field. Perhaps we need to change the way in which we pay these vital public servants, to end the tyranny of the spinal column pay scale, national negotiations and a world where school administrators earn more than the best classroom teachers.

Most short term careers have worked pretty hard at making sure there's a life after playing - for public sector ones like policing, fire and soldiering there's a pension and extensive investment in retraining and support. This doesn't stop many of those leaving these uniformed, regimented roles finding civilian life tricky but it shows someone's thinking about the issue even if perhaps not hard enough. In sports like football there's a lot of financial advice and support but just as we saw with the dancers, too many ex-players end up like so many Ghosts of Football Past earning a not especially good income from clutching onto past glories.

But the brightest sportsmen do end up in coaching and management but this is done in a situation where they can't do what got them there - play 90 minutes of high-intensity football. For the other careers we've touched on such as teaching there's really no excuse - we should be begging the best to stay in front of a class.


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