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The dark side of the whiteboard - It's my job or my kids. My job won

Teaching makes you a lousy parent. I say this ruefully because one of the reasons I opted for teaching was that it seemed a more family-friendly career. Before I became a teacher I worked unsociable hours, often arriving home just in time to speed-read The Three Billy Goats Gruff and squirt Punch and Judy toothpaste over my already napping brood. We had little quality of life. Not only did I rarely see my kids, but I also struggled to pay for childcare. With a joint income of under #163;30k and three kids in tow, we were scraping the bottom of the childcare barrel. Most working mums in my area relied on Sharon, a local childminder who hung around the school gates with skeins of toddlers strung out from her buggy. After negotiating a canny cash-in-hand deal, she added my little darlings to her washing-line of charges. Every afternoon she collected them from school and walked them back to hers, where she introduced them to the heady delights of Billy Bear ham and Grand Theft Auto III.

When I realised that my six-year-old could empty an Uzi and carjack a Yakuza Stinger but couldn't yet tie his laces, I knew it was time for a change. It didn't take me long to decide on my new career. Because I loved being around kids and - thanks to my husband - was used to being bullied by fractious middle-aged men with bipolar tendencies, teaching seemed an obvious choice.

But how wrong could I be? Teaching may be an admirable and altruistic calling, but it is not conducive to harmonious family life. True, you might share the same working hours as your kids, but that is where the advantage ends. If you are anything like me, you spend your evenings crouched behind piles of feint-ruled books, snarling at your offspring. And when you have finished ticking every other paragraph on every other page, you hook yourself up to the internet, Googling inane terms such as "worksheets", "activities" and "resources" instead of making toffee or going to the park. Our kids would be better served if we swapped our search-engine addiction for a slot-machine habit: at least while we gambled our hopes away on that random jackpot, they could be tucking into a tasty tray of battered sausage and chips.

Since I started teaching, my parenting skills have nosedived. My son is in the middle of his GCSEs, but I don't know when he started, when he finishes or what he plans to do next. Except that if Tesco Metro doesn't have any scientific calculators, there is a good chance it won't involve maths. In recent years I have been too busy trying to be a teacher to be much of a parent. In education, the whole worklife dilemma can be reduced to an eitheror situation. Either your kids can smell of Lenor, or you can keep on top of your job.

At least my laissez-faire parenting kicked in late; the ones who will struggle with their guilt are the proud new parents. The blend of intractable timetables and iron-hearted management means they are going to miss out on their kids' developmental milestones. They will only experience little Lydia's show-stealing performances in the nativity play and sack race via Auntie Norma's shaky camera-phone.

Still, it is not all bad. Our kids might smell like hamsters, but when they need ring-binders, pencils and crayons we can certainly give them the edge.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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