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From feeling fresh to the union blues

Michelle Alexander, left, has taught in the same primary school for 23 years and is just as enthusiastic about her job now as the day she began.

The 46-year-old reception teacher at Nelson primary, in east London, says she has stayed fresh by moving around within the school and taking on extra responsibilities.

She has taught key stage 2 pupils, been a literacy co-ordinator for eight years and became a foundation-stage co-ordinator last year.

"I have seen a lot of changesin my career and enjoyed implementing them,"

she said. "But I've had a lot of support. I still love my job because I love working with children. My husband is a secondary teacher and he also loves his job, but... can understand the difference because as children grow older there are more behaviour problems."

So, what advice would she give to newly qualified teachers? They should listen to the advice of more experienced staff and "go with flow" when new initiatives are introduced, she said.

Jane Rendle, above right, taught maths full-time in Bradford secondary schools for eight years before devoting more time to working as a union official.

She believes the change of direction was prompted by the pressure of the teaching job.

"If I had been as totally enthusiastic about teaching at that stage, I probably wouldn't have gone into the union work," she said. "The level of energy I had for the job wasn't the same."

She says this was partly due to the fact that she was a late starter - she began teaching at the age of 40 - but she also blames the nature of secondary-school work.

"It was the relentlessness - the fact that for every minute of the working day you have to be in a particular place," she said. "You can never take time out for a cup of tea. Even if you are not feeling that good, you've still got to stand in front of a class and perform."

Ms Rendle said one reason primary teachers show more durable commitment to their jobs is because they have no choice.

"Secondary schools are bigger places with more of a workplace ethic, so people are less inclined to put up with bad conditions than they might do in a primary."

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