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The bliss of winding down

How can I put into words the joy of waking up this morning and not going into school? I made the decision to work a four-day week after an extremely stressful moment last session. Another friend had died of cancer, and life suddenly seemed to be passing me by. There were things I wanted to achieve, but I'd be too tired to do much else but slump in front of the TV in the evenings. I enjoy my job, most of the time, but it was dominating my existence.

There is a downside - a smaller pay packet - but we are the lucky generation of small mortgages, nearly paid off. We are also relatively well-paid - although the first reduced payslip was a bit of a reality check! I remember years ago hearing an older colleague saying she never looked at her bank statements because she never spent all her pay, and being incredulous. So in a way, it is frustrating to have got to that stage and be deliberately blowing it. My boys are still at university, but the end is in sight, and I've saved enough to cover their needs. They are becoming more self-sufficient every day anyway, and would rather have a happy mum than a rich one.

Besides, if need be I can earn more.

The other problem is feeling for my green-eyed colleagues who might not be as old, but feel just as tired and stressed as I used to. I have to be a bit pragmatic there - their time will come when age, as well as workload, does weary them. But if they are my age, what's stopping them?

And of course, although I am in school one day less, my workload doesn't shrink. The admin and paperwork and course planning and form-filling don't get any less. Now I just have one day less to do it all.

But the upside is that with a day off each week, I have far more energy when I am at work. It is most noticeable on a Friday, when everyone else is grey with exhaustion. All teachers are overloaded. I certainly feel better, have more patience and am enjoying the pupils more.

I also have time to enjoy moments like this. It is raining outside, the cat is sprawled across my knee, the fire is lit. I have a list of things I want to do and at least half of them are only possible because I am off. And of course, I can arrange for plumbers and gas men to call because glory, glory, I can be at home all day if necessary.

Winding down - what a way to wind up a career.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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