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Get me off the treadmill

If you don't put yourself first sometimes, no one else will. Phil Revell suggests ways to put your work-life balance in order.

Has your get up and go got up and gone? Do you see the rest of the year stretching out in front of you, paved with broken glass and uphill all the way? Asked to think of a colour that described your teaching day, what would you say? Vibrant yellow perhaps, or blood red, or a monotonous shade of grey?

If life at the chalkface is getting you down there are many options, most of which involve resignation letters and a slide into debt. But, as Tony Blair's cabinet colleagues are probably tired of hearing, there is a third way.

Reach outside the classroom and find the off switch for the treadmill. Develop some strategies to put the zing back into teaching and rediscover the enjoyment that got you into the job in the first place.

Top of the list and first in the queue is time management. You need to create some high-quality worktime for yourself every day. But not at home - most of your workload should be dealt with at school. In practice, this means arriving early or leaving late - but it should be no earlier or later than other professionals.

Try to give yourself 90 minutes of child-free worktime every day. This should be in one block, in a place where you can work without being disturbed. For most people this is their classroom, but you may have to negotiate with the cleaners - because the sight of a teacher with a pile of marking has a tendency to bring out the gossip.

Learn to say no. This isn't easy, but it can be done. Respond to requests by asking for time to think. Decide whether you really want to do what you have been asked to do, and about whether you have time.

Nearly all teachers take work home, but there's a huge difference between a pile of marking and a new scheme of work. Get the routine work done at school, whether it's marking or reports. Home-based work should be reserved for creative tasks such as lesson preparation.

Rediscover the kids. After all, they were the reason you signed up in the first place.

Run an after-school club or offer to help someone else. It is more work and it does put pressure on the other things you have to do, but it's a guaranteed way to develop better relationships with pupils.

Learn to take life a little less seriously. Try a little eccentricity. Wear a Simpsons tie or a Paddington bear scarf. Open the door for some pupils and say: "After you, sir." Put your waste bin on your desk and label it "IN". Liven up departmental meetings with chocolate eclairs. Flirt outrageously with Mrs Tightly Clenched in the office.

Develop a life beyond school. At least once a week, spend some time doing something that takes you away from the job completely. There's the local drama group, or sport, or painting, or gardening. Whichever activity you choose should require concentration and at least one other person, preferably not a teacher. Sex fits that description and studies agree that people with healthy and active sex lives are happier at work. If your partner is a teacher, arrange an evening in and agree a pact: no talking about schools.

And if all this fails? If your colleagues are bright eyed and bushy tailed and can muster a cheerfully anarchic approach to the national curriculum and a relentlessly positive approach to the world, then take a hard look in the mirror. Perhaps it is you after all.

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