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I'm not sure when teaching is supposed to get easier...

I'm not sure when teaching is supposed to get easier, but it certainly isn't after your first term as a head of department. I was exhausted

Happy new year. I hope your Christmas was restful and relaxing. I hope the bag of marking you took home, swearing to complete it in that spare half-hour between EastEnders Christmas specials, didn't intrude too much on your thoughts, and that you brought it back (unmarked) to school with more of a sense of resignation than guilt.

I spent my holidays trying to get the balance right. I settled on this brilliant new philosophy after spending a happy hour in my local bookshop surreptitiously reading my horoscope profile in What 2004 Means for Librans while waiting for my husband to buy a book. Needless to say, I was fascinated by its relevance to my life, but can't remember anything it said except that Librans need to get the balance right. Though now I come to think about it, that may have come from the December edition of Lose Weight Now.

Whatever its provenance, the idea has stuck, and as I ended my term on a level of exhaustion on a par with your average NQT, I felt I needed a bit of harmonious balance in my holidays. I'm not sure when teaching is supposed to get easier, but it certainly isn't after your first term as a head of department. I was exhausted, having spent my final week tying up loose ends, doing paperwork and buying wine for the members of the support staff who have made my life bearable over the past months. They say Christmas is a time for giving. You can say that again. I would have given my left arm for a bit of peace and quiet - and an empty email inbox.

I've swung through all the extremes in my approach to holidays, and I've decided you need to approach them with a clear philosophy. Call it medium-term planning if you will. I spent my first couple of holidays in a rush, seeing friends I'd ignored over the preceding term, catching up with films, exhibitions and plays, charging round the sales, fulfilling various family obligations - the joys of being the only daughter in a family that gives new meaning to the word patriarchy - fighting off flu, and trying to fit in a bit of marking and planning.

I quickly learned the error of my ways when I dragged myself back into school for the new term, wondering where the past two weeks had gone, and congratulating myself for setting new records in what the human body can achieve in the midst of severe sleep deprivation. It was heads down until the inevitable virus-fest that characterised the Easter holidays. I've revised that approach, and have spent the past couple of holidays living in self-imposed seclusion, venturing out only to stock up on instant soup and the horoscope specials. Friends were strictly limited to one short visit, and quality time was measured by ensuring that the number of hours I spent on the sofa was in a high ratio compared to those hours spent in the pub.

Fine for a while, but it all got a bit boring. There's something hollow about finishing all your marking but feeling as if the holidays have passed you by.

So I spent this Christmas performing a balancing act, bridging the gap between those carefree NQT days and my new HoD responsibilities. I'd like to recommend it. I spent one week on a sunny beach, and the other making new year's diet resolutions (some things never change). Maybe I'm sacrificing the carefree abandon of my youth, but even though Christmas is over, I wanted to start the new term ready to give a little more.

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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