Personally Speaking

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT campaign to recruit more teachers says it all. "Nobody forgets a good teacher." Well, nobody that is except that teacher's own family, whose recollection may well become a little hazy. Because, with the early mornings, late nights and constant stress of the job, it is a wonder teachers see much of their own families at all.

I admit, when I decided to train to be a teacher it was because I thought it was a family friendly profession. That was back in the mid-Eighties, when teaching was thought of as a nice little number. OK, so the pay wasn't great, but there were the reasonable hours, long holidays and (I imagined) supportive employers.

No one could think that teaching is family friendly now. And that perception may be partly responsible for the current crisis in teacher-training applications. The latest ad campaign might make teaching look more attractive. But would any sane person, wanting to combine teaching with having children, be attracted to the profession at the moment? Rotten pay, long hours, stress - it's hardly the recipe for successful family life.

Back in the Eighties, I thought I could successfully bring up my children, and continue to teach. Sadly, I was wrong. Instead, I find myself to be one of the estimated 400,000 inactive teachers, who for some reason or another, have left the profession. As such, I am also a target for the "nobody forgets a good teacher" campaign.

I have been tempted to return. But whenever I look at the options open to me, I can't see how I can combine them with spending time with my young children. Imagine, a working day that starts at 7.30am, and doesn't end until nearly 6pm. Then you take half an hour for a quick meal with your family, and then it's time for preparation, marking, record-keeping. The holidays are OK , except for the nagging feeling that you should always be planning, and updating your resources.

It isn't just the long hours. Teaching is a draining profession. The energy required to enthuse a class doesn't come cheap. The very last thing you want to do when you get home is dredge out more of that energy to cope with your own four-year-old, or to help your nine-year-old with his homework. As the headteacher of my children's infants school said, "it is really hard now, to teach and have young children".

Knowing all this, my husband and I decided that when our children were young, I would work part-time. But it was here that the problems started. A trained nursery teacher, my skills were meant to be at a premium. I was keen to job-share. But headteachers in the primary sector seemed very reluctant to appoint two teachers to one class. We'd moved house when my son was little, so I had no record of employment in the new area. I lurched from one fixed-term contract to another. And often, at the end of term, I was told "we'd have kept you, if you could have worked full- time."

After a year, there was a jobs freeze, and the fixed-term contract work dried up. I then went on supply. Weeks passed without a phone call, and then suddenly it went mad. I found it nearly impossible to balance work with the needs of a young toddler, and a childminder who needed regular employment. It was hard telling frantic headteachers that you could only work two or three days a week. Inevitably, I found myself pressurised into doing more than I could manage.

It was after one night, when my son and I both sat down and wept with exhaustion, that we decided it had to stop. That was seven years ago, and I haven't taught since. I know other women in the same situation. A friend, who slogged away for years while her children were young, but finally gave up because the stress of the job was affecting her family. A highly qualified woman teacher who took years to find a part-time job. A mother who decided to focus on her own family rather than exhausting herself trying to teach other people's children.

It's ironic that while social workers and nurses can often return to work in part-time or job-share positions, teaching (the profession that is most concerned with the well-being of children) is so conservative about adapting to the needs of parents. But sooner or later, the DfEE must face the fact that one of the reasons teaching is so unpopular is that it isn't family friendly anymore.