EDUCATION : Why two into one goes very well

Sharing her teaching job means Vicki Leonard has twice as much energy for the children
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The Independent Online
"Dear Headteacher,

As one of the parents who was anxious about the teaching arrangements for my daughter's class, I should like to take this opportunity of stating how well the job-share arrangement between the two teachers is working. I feel that the children are benefiting from the attention of two first- rate teachers. More importantly, my daughter seems to be enjoying the arrangement and her work is going well."

So reads a letter received last term by the head of a north London school which this year has two classes being looked after by two teachers apiece. Parents of children in primary schools wait with trepidation through the summer term for information about their child's next teacher: a year is a long time to spend with an unpopular teacher. News that the class is to be job-shared can be a cause for concern.

But as a teacher "sharing" a class, I would argue that children with two teachers do better than children with one and that schools should encourage teachers who want to opt for part-time teaching.

Primary school teachers may want to job-share for a number of reasons. I choose to because I am pursuing other professional interests. At my school, teachers have chosen to do it to fit in with family demands. They have been experienced and valued members of staff whom the school hasn't wanted to lose completely by not offering a flexible alternative to full- time teaching.

Class-sharers may also be full-time staff with other responsibilities such as special needs or the administrative role of a deputy head. In small primary schools, the head teacher may have a class two or three days a week.

I have a year 3 class two days a week, normally on Thursdays and Fridays. My class partner and I plan together before each term, meet regularly to review the week and decide what each is doing the following one, and meet parents together. We keep a daily record of incidents or matters of interest. If she is ill or on a course, I swap the days around or work more days. The seven- and eight-year-olds in our class don't seem to notice which of us is in any more and often call me by the other teacher's name. This means that the class has not been taught by anyone other than the two of us all year; job-sharing can give children more stability, rather than less.

But I think the overwhelming benefit for a shared class is that the two teachers bring more enthusiasm and energy to the job, simply because they are less tired. Teaching a class of between 30 and 35 children every day is physically and mentally exhausting. Having done that, the contrast with how I feel now is stark.

Shared classes gain from the arrival of a fresh and enthusiastic face halfway through the week. I also think they work harder: we both have our own agenda to cover on our days in the classroom. Work that needs "finishing off" in another session is an administrative nuisance, so we push the children on at a faster pace.

Similarly, no two teachers are likely to have exactly the same specialisms; my partner's strength may lie in maths and mine in language work; she may like and be good at technology and I may prefer music. Our different aptitudes are reflected in the way we divide the curriculum. Few full- time teachers will be good at teaching everything, but a class share allows a teacher to play to her strengths.

Through the year, children can grow to love, hate or merely tolerate their class teacher. No teacher can put her hand on her heart and say she likes every child in her class. Personality clashes between teacher and child can arise. Again, the child in the shared class is likely to do better. If one child is making me climb the wall, the chances are it is a different child driving my partner to distraction. A child in a shared class has two chances of forming a good relationship with their teacher.

So take heart if your son or daughter has two teachers. With good planning, liaison and record-keeping, your child should be on to a good thing.