I've just spent a week out of the classroom working in the branch of a national chain store, comparing their management strategies with ours. As well as my official purpose, I was interested to test out the theory that the grass really is greener beyond the school playing fields.
At the end of my first morning I felt ready to move jobs or at least that a career switch wasn't too far off. The peace, the relative tranquillity, and the adult company were such a pleasure. There were tea and coffee breaks at set times come what may - and an hour for lunch meant exactly that.
Work finished promptly at 5.30pm which meant I was out the doors at 5. 31 pm. I got home earlier than I usually do from my "real job" which some people think finishes at 3.30pm. Any extra time spent working in the shop would pay overtime.
It didn't take me long, however, to miss the team work and general camaraderie that exists among staff at school. I could see that there was no vested interest in the day-to-day work done on the shop floor, where I spent most of my time, and that most people lacked commitment and motivation.
That wasn't so surprising since many jobs were utterly mundane - pricing, shelf stacking, stocktaking and so on. It amazed me how long these tasks could be made to last. I've often had to sort out library books in a busy classroom of 30 children while the library van engine is running. So I was prepared to work fast and furiously in readiness for the next job, only to find that was it - a whole morning's work.
Customer relations are a high priority for retailers, and shop staff are supposed to be helpful and courteous. The shop expected you to drop what you were doing so you could respond to a customer's question or to call for another member of staff. It was funny to think of myself in school facing 15 or 20 "what do I do now?" questions all at once while still carrying on with the "task in hand". Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to call another teacher for help when your attention is demanded in two directions?
I did learn a lot though, from delving into the management structure and policies of a thriving business. There was a complete absence of local policy-making - all decisions are taken on a national scale. It creates uniformity - as far as possible, stores provide a standard and guaranteed core of stock and customer care, with only small variations depending on region, demand and size.
There is something appealing about this - national curriculum policies with just small variations made in schools would ensure a truly national curriculum, not to mention save the hours of precious time which each school up and down the country spends producing individual policies, sometimes reinventing the wheel.
In a flash my week of work experience was over. It left me more conscious than ever that the motivation and commitment of teachers is outstanding, and that in Lincolnshire, at least, the professional training program and support is very good. Teaching is a varied, exciting and challenging job. You can have a stimulating and interesting career given the equal opportunities which exist for all to succeed on the management ladder.
At the end of the week I thanked the manager and staff for their time and for giving me the opportunity to try something new. The "grass isn't greener" after all. Try it and see.
Andrew Lane is deputy head of Harlaxton C of E primary school, Lincolnshire