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Neil reflects on starting teacher training in his 40s

Updated: May 12, 2022

Why you won’t find me trying to look like Elvis

I’ve often thought about grabbing a bottle of Just for Men. Then I remember that my dad did the same thing, once, and ended up looking like Elvis Presley.

I’m sensitive about my age and I’m not even that old – I’m 43. The silver hair, as I’ve been told, gives the game away. But I should rejoice in this, if that’s all it is that makes me look more mature.

I’m a bit less anxious and neurotic than in my teens; I’m physically healthier than I was in my twenties; I’m fitter and stronger, now, than I was in my thirties. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink that much - my skin is grateful for both. I have a zest for life. I still wear Adidas Gazelles.

My age never used to be an issue in my previous life. There were six of us who started at the BBC at the same time as twentysomethings. We celebrated landmark birthdays together; we went to each other’s weddings; we celebrated the arrival of our children. The anxiety over leaving and then later starting a teacher training course, was potentially feeling like the odd one out. The old(er) man. Who is going to want to be my friend? Don’t leave me out, please. I’m nice.

Thankfully, feeling isolated has never happened. When there have been jokes, it’s because I’ve initiated them. Maybe I was trying to get there first. I’ve joked that my relationship with my wife is older than some of the cohort. I’ve told my fellow trainees about the world before the internet and the National Curriculum; when Donald Trump was remembered for playing a cameo in Home Alone 2, and giving Kevin that creepy look.

I have been teased over whether I worked with a little chalkboard slate when I was a kid, not far off… But I’m liked, I think. We bond over shared passions and new experiences, not because of when we were born.

Seriously, my age anxiety is likely related to the death of my mum. She underwent chemo and radiotherapy during my last year at university. Following a mastectomy and more treatment, she got the all clear, only for the cancer to return. At 43, she had been nearing the end of her life. I find this impossible to deal with. Impossible and terrifying.

I feel lucky for every day. Mum’s death has been a motivator in my life. When I was miserable in my last job I didn’t hesitate in handing in my notice. Life is too short. Also, when I’m feeling anxious ahead of a tricky teaching day, I think of her. What was mum doing this time 20 years ago? Trying to stay alive. There’s no comparison. I can do this.

Going through the same experience, like teacher training, is unifying. It does not matter about your age; it doesn’t matter about your life experience. Ultimately, you’re learning, failing, celebrating and struggling, together. Being older doesn’t mean I’m doing any better. I’m finding it as tough as anyone else. I have wobbles. For example, the other day, I felt so low. I couldn’t hide my feelings. I just wanted to go home and cry. I thought I should be the one picking people up, making them feel better, because I’m the older person. Once I’d shaken off these feelings, with the help of a run, I reached out to those who were upset. We made each other feel better. The next day, a friend on the course sent me a video that cheered me up. I was so touched by this.

We are all in this together. We cannot do it without each other. Whatever age we are.

Neil Heath, Art and Design trainee

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