Jon von Neumann Secondary Institute
Status: Secondary Education Institute
Interviewee: Francesco Colosi, Didactic Coordinator and Teacher
“ There is no real policy for the management of staff with regard to age in the education sector. ”
“ Some attempts at age management have been made, at least in theory, with the introduction of enhancement hours. ”
“ I think a big problem in schools is the lack of intermediate figures… There are no groups, no departments. It is not possible to turn to anyone other than the manager for problems or suggestions, for organisational issues such as age management. ”
Teacher Age Dynamics: navigating challenges in our school.
There is no real policy for the management of staff with regard to age in the education sector, in the state school, in particular in the high school where I work. It does not exist in any form, there is no reference to it in ministerial circulars, in the circulars of the regional education offices or at local level in the school networks.
Often, some initiatives start at the bottom and then they can reach the top, or not. The initiatives that we proposed in the past, when we started with trade union struggles, were about young people, because we were young... for example, the ones for the inclusion of nurseries in schools. Now the average age of teachers is so high that a maternity replacement is a rarity.
Main reasons that have led to the challenges we are facing.
There is a widespread feeling here about age issues. I am 62 and about to retire; in 1 or 2 years, in the worst case scenario according to the Forneto Law, I will have reached the contribution limit. I started teaching at the age of 21 and everything was very different back then. The average age of teachers was very different. Retirement was also different and the retirement age limit was 60. The school also allowed early retirement after 19 years of service: I have seen colleagues retire at 40.
There was a constant turnover of staff in the school... certainly more than there is now.
I was 21, and I had other colleagues of the same age, I had many colleagues under 30... the old people were the colleagues in their 50s. Today, the young are the 50-year-olds and the old are the 70-year-olds. Today we retire at 67, but not everyone has reached the contribution limit and so retirement is being postponed.
I make this introduction to give you an idea of the teaching staff in upper secondary/high schools. I think the situation is similar at the middle school level, perhaps somewhat different at the primary school level... at least as long as the access to the profession is regulated by an official examination.
So this is actually a problem that everyone feels very strongly about, we see these issues every day, we are very happy when a young colleague comes... and by young I mean a colleague in his 40s. This year I am mentoring a colleague who won the national competition and is 31 years old.
We have discussions about age management with managers, with colleagues, with supervisors, with trade unions, but there are very few intervention measures.
Addressing and preventing teacher age issues: organisational measures in place in our school.
As a teacher's career progresses, he or she takes up positions as a representative on committees, as well as in mentoring new colleagues or engaging in pedagogical and didactic research. Some of the frontal hours are then replaced by other activities.
Some attempts at age management have been made, at least in theory, with the introduction of enhancement hours ( with the so-called "Good School Reform"). These hours should be used to support and be supported by colleagues, to train or update oneself.
But this is valid only on paper; in practice, the enhancement hours are used to cover the replacement hours: those who should be doing the "enhancement" become the stopgap to replace absent teachers.
The problem of substitutes is serious because at the upper secondary level no substitute teacher can be called in for absences of less than 10 days.
The various reforms of recent years have increasingly reduced the number of additional hours that could be used for other activities. Therefore, the extension hours could be a tool for age management. Of course, no one was talking about age management at the time of the reform... and no one is talking about it now. But this generational change needs to happen, because we, the ageing teachers, will have to retire soon. Talking about age management could be useful. I will propose the use of enhancement hours in this form.
One thing related to age management that we do is the safety questionnaire... we all do it. We have to fill up a questionnaire on school welfare and that's where the different age related issues come up. So, the data is also there... it's not just chatter, it's structured data.
The provision of the questionnaire is mandatory. The headteacher has to distribute it, otherwise the Ministry will impose administrative sanctions. But it is not compulsory to use the results of the questionnaire, which are often set aside or piloted in some way, because it is important for the school that a satisfactory level of well-being emerges...
The headteacher could delegate the distribution of the questionnaires and the analysis of the data, but the delegate would have to do this during extra hours... not everyone wants to spend extra hours dealing with the discomfort found in the questionnaire.
We are privileged because we are a small school and we don't have problems of overcrowding: we have 1,200 pupils but they are spread over 3 sites. But the tools are there.
For the school, a key moment when age issues often arise is the choice of timetable. There are colleagues who have young children, others who look after elderly parents... we try to mediate between the different needs of colleagues. At the beginning of the year, everyone would provide a so-called "desiderata" (desired) timetable, with their timetable preferences, and we would try to satisfy everyone. Since the Moratti Reform and the reduction in the number of 'available' hours, this is no longer possible, partly because there is a risk of pleasing someone and displeasing someone else. But I think it could have been something suitable for age management... they should think about it now.
Analysing the pros and cons: the teacher's awareness of organisational measures.
These measures cannot be demanded directly from the school, because their autonomy does not go that far. Or at least none of us has thought to point out that there is also an interest in age management, at the European level.
At the trade unions level, it has been asked several times, the issue is very strong, in addition to the possibility of redeployment in other areas, there are also measures that can involve changing jobs during a teacher's career.
I think a big problem in schools is the lack of intermediate figures, because there are caretakers, secretaries, teachers and managers. There are no intermediaries; they exist on paper but not in practice. There are no groups, no departments. It is not possible to turn to anyone other than the manager for problems or suggestions, for organisational issues such as age management. The manager has to be the one to whom everything is reported to, and often has neither the means nor the time. For example, there should be a vice-principal to help with organisation, but this person, who is also a teacher, does not have hours to devote to this task. Or there should be someone in charge of the laboratories, who is interested in buying ergonomic chairs for the older staff, for example... There should be other people besides the headteacher who take care of the proper organisation of the work of others.
We all know it, it's one of the biggest problems in the school. Every teacher behind that door has their own world, it's them with the rest of the class. And that's a big problem. Because even these situations of tutoring and shadowing, or simply this hierarchical organisation in levels that we talked about, is always seen as something that damages the relationship between the teacher and the class...
I don't understand why there is jealousy or envy among colleagues: it is not my case, but perhaps because I had special needs. I am a technician. In technical institutes, there are technical-practical teachers who always work in the presence of a theoretical teacher. The theoretical teacher deals with the theoretical themes in the classroom; once a concept is acquired, students and the theory teacher come to the laboratory to put it into practice. So I have to interact with a theoretical teacher as well as they have to interact with me. So there is no jealousy, this situation allows us to confront each other, not to live in a bubble. For others it's difficult, it's jealousy, but mostly it's fear. It is more the fear of being judged. If it's students judging us, that's one thing, it's easy to deal with. But if it's a colleague, then everyone feels under scrutiny. Then it becomes routine, and even new people get used to it.
Colleagues who lecture with the door open are viewed with suspicion, as exhibitionists.
It is a fear, it is certainly unfounded, because in forty years, in more than forty years of work, I can say that most teachers are very well prepared, they put their heart and soul into their work. And they do it out of passion, for very few of them this is a fallback.
Of course, there are those who are more skilled, those who are less skilled, those who are more motivated, those who have more knowledge... But it is not an evaluation, it is an exchange.
Positive effects of the measures introduced
The reform that brought us school autonomy includes time for research... In terms of didactic research, schools should be autonomous. We create "environments ", networks of schools in the same area that have pooled their potential, their experience, their heritage, to share it with others. Each environment (ambito) deals with different aspects of the school: safety, discipline, etc. This has become a practice that greatly facilitates the work of schools because it allows us to make the best use of the few resources we have. By creating networks, the few resources become sufficient to provide a service.