I have never met people who are more adept at organising, juggling, and ploughing through huge amounts of work in record time

26th May 2006 at 01:00
;Management and motherhood;Features Arts Teaching is all about learning curves. There's the NQT one, the Ofsted one, the changing-schools one, and the advancing-up-the-career-ladder one, to name just a few. Now that I've finished half a term of being a working mother, I feel that I've encountered yet another. Teachers, I've discovered, are uniquely qualified to be working mums. I have never met, among all my professional friends, people who are more adept at organising, juggling, and ploughing through huge amounts of work in record amounts of time. These skills have stood me in good stead in the past weeks of chaos.

Lots of lovely readers have emailed me with advice - all greatly appreciated. I now feel a little more able to share some working-mother advice of my own, for anyone who's about to jump on the hamster wheel your life will become.

First thing I realised as I was shoving yet another load of washing on at 5.30am and wondering when I was going to get a chance to sort or iron it, was that washing is the working mother's enemy. But when you have two boys under two, it's kind of unavoidable. Here's my advice. Go to your local supermarket and buy as many of their cheap children's clothes as possible.

When your children have at least 10 tops and 10 pairs of jeans - or make that 15 to be safe - you only have to wash once a week. With judicious use of bibs, you might even get away with once a fortnight. I'm aiming for once every three weeks. And I've taught my husband how to use the washing machine, even if he sometimes confuses it with the dishwasher. However, I feel that we're moving in the right direction.

Next thing: buy a slow cooker. I didn't know what this was either, until my sister-in-law turned up with one. It looks like a big cooking pot and it plugs in to the wall. All you do is throw in some veg, some beans, some chicken or other meat, a bit of wine, cover it with stock and switch it on.

You do this before work in the morning, and when you walk back through the door, hey presto, your supper is ready. It looks impressive, it smells impressive, you can even kid your admiring friends and family that you've spent hours slaving over a hot stove. And there's only one bit of washing up. I am in love with my slow cooker. Get one and watch your sanity return.

Next, bulk-buy birthday cards and presents. I bought my entire family's birthday presents in one glorious afternoon at my local shopping centre when both my boys passed out in the double buggy and I could actually get some buying done without a jumbo bag of chocolate buttons. I even have a few rolls of wrapping paper. It may sound anal, but I don't want to give up my weekends with my children going round shops. I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who buys Christmas cards in the January sales, but I'm beginning to see the sense in it.

Best of all is menu planning. Back in my pre-child days when a colleague told me she planned all her meals a week in advance, I almost collapsed. A trip home from work just wasn't the same without a last-minute dash to Tesco's to decide that night's dinner. Now, of course, I have to rush home to get time with my children, and I must admit that there is a sense of achievement in knowing what I'm making and that I have all the ingredients.

When I first started as a Senco, I realised that if I got into school early and shifted some work, I would be freer and more able to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the day. It's been a good lesson for my new life as a working mum. Organise as much as you can, and then, when it all goes tits up, at least you know that some things can take care of themselves. Failing that, of course, I could always get myself a stay-at-home housewife.

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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