A fresh slice of life

Constantly working at top speed and taking more and more on board? Stop! says Margaret Adams. Now's the time to take a new look at your existence and down shift

Most teachers tend to think about their careers in terms of the progressions they make as they move jobs, take on more responsibility, and earn more until they retire with an income linked to their final salary.

Yet alternative approaches to career management are becoming more popular as teachers, like increasing numbers of people at work, seek a different work-life balance, and along with it a different way of working.

Some teachers leave, but down shifting can be the answer for those who want to stay in teaching. Career down shifting is about abandoning work-focused living voluntarily. It is about choosing a way of life that does not always require you to give precedence to your work. It is about being able to give more of your time and energy to the people outside work who are important to you and to the non-work related activities that you value, without feeling pressured to get back to the job at the earliest opportunity.

Most people in education who decide to down shift do so to address issues outside work or their changing aspirations:

Child-rearing may lead parents, guardians and adoptive parents of young children to reduce the hours they work to allow them to spend more time with their children.

Other family responsibilities, including caring for a spouse or partner and looking after an elderly relative, can also lead teachers to want to devote more emotional support to their loved ones.

A person who has spent months recuperating from a debilitating and life-threatening illness may not want to return to the job they had enjoyed before the illness.

More people are choosing to down shift to fulfil their personal aspirations. They may want to devote more time to a hobby or interest, live more simply and more healthily, to live in a different part of the country, or may be searching for greater meaning in their lives.

Before you start planning your down shifting strategy, you need to remember that it can involve significant changes in your life, not least in terms of your income now and in the future.

Down shifting may also have an impact on your pension and affect the lives of other people, including your close friends and family members. Only when you are satisfied you have taken these issues into account can you begin to think about the detail of your career down shifting strategy.

First, set out your goals. Before you take any action you need to know what you want to achieve with this change to your life. People who have down shifted successfully often say they have achieved more control of their lives, the ability to live at the pace which is right for them, and more opportunity to take a full part in family life.

The most obvious activity to help you to begin to down shift is to work fewer hours. By negotiation with your headteacher and governors you may be able to work differing fractions of a full-time post. Working four days a week is another down shifting option, as is job sharing.

Responsibility reduction is another well-established down shifting strategy. If you still want to work full-time but wish to shed the additional burden of being, for example, a head of department, this may be the way forward. Only you can decide if now is the time to down shift your career.

If you decide you want these benefits more than you want a traditional teaching career, then perhaps it is time for you to start your down shifting plans

Margaret Adams is a former teacher and the author of Work-life Balance: A Practical Guide for Teachers (2006). David Fulton Publishers. Visit www.amazon.co.uk

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