For Janet Newton-Lewis, the thought of returning to teaching after eight years raising children was daunting. It wasn't that she didn't have experience - she'd taught for five years in an inner London primary, sometimes with up to 40 pupils in her class, and in a diagnostic unit for children with special needs.
But she knew that not only would she have to relearn old skills but also catch up with new developments. "It's so easy to lose confidence, particularly after a long period out," she says. "The thought of controlling a class, the changes in the national curriculum, the preparation for lessons, the paperwork - all returners, I am sure, feel daunted. I did."
Yet 18 years after she returned, Janet, now 52, is still happily teaching at Fordwater, a special school for pupils with severe learning difficulties in Chichester, West Sussex. In her years away she'd done some private home tuition and worked in a restaurant, but returning after so long wasn't easy and Janet tried to make sure she was as prepared as possible before plunging back into the classroom.
"When I was ready to return I signed up to do supply teaching in primary and special schools," she says. "Yes, it was terrifying at first, but it was good practice. Colleagues in schools are usually most helpful and will often be able to give good advice.
"If you can manage to do some teaching during the break I am sure it helps - supply teaching, home teaching, or even volunteering to help at a local school. Hear pupils reading, become a governor or even wash paintbrushes. It will keep you in touch with developments, and is an opportunity to watch good teachers in action."
Some former teachers apply for non-teaching posts to get used to school again. Janet started with three days a week and didn't intend to go back full-time before she was offered a post. "By then I enjoyed it so much I thought I might as well."
She also used the time away to learn new skills, studying for a Royal Society of Arts diploa in teaching children and adults with specific learning difficulties. "But I still have to master the intricacies of the computer."
She also suggests people should keep in touch with education policy by reading the papers and checking the internet. Janet found that being a member of the National Association for Special Educational Needs kept her in touch with her area.
Once she did return, the most important guarantee of success was to be prepared - having a collection of good resources for different lessons, which is especially important if you do supply teaching - "even if it's just games and quizzes related to the subject".
Many areas now have professional centres for teachers, where resources may be borrowed or bought. And there are structured lessons and ideas for literacy and maths on the Department for Education and Employment's website (www.dfee.gov.uk).
"Confidence and, following on from that, good discipline, does come with good preparation," says Janet. "It's bound to feel different at first. But the feeling of being there for the children, I don't think that ever goes. I get so much satisfaction from it."
Anyone thinking of returning to the job can get advice from the following sources:
* The Teacher Training Agency produces a Keeping in Touch newsletter with comments from teachers and advice about all aspects of returning, from interview tips to finding jobs, from new areas of the curriculum such as citizenship to information about inspection. Email: email@example.com, or telephone 01245 454434.
* "Keeping in Touch" returner courses are held around the country, focusing on literacy, numeracy, ICT and the national curriculum. Contact the KiT information line on 01245 454434, or visit the TTA website at www.teach-tta.gov.ukreturn.
* Help with using ICT in teaching is provided on two Cd-Roms from the TTA, one for primary and one for secondary. To order, telephone 0845 6060323.
* The Childcare Information Systems Development Project provides information on 0800 960296, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.