I remember having my register taken while the teacher gulped down a bowl of Frosties. I thought that was what teachers did

7th March 2003 at 00:00
It's bang in the middle of term. The holidays seem years away. There's no point counting weeks in your planner because you'd probably kill yourself.

You're overworked, underpaid, and there just aren't enough hours in the day. I had a major bout of mid-term depression a few years ago, and I hit on a solution that has seen me through many a crisis since. It's controversial. It won't work for everyone. It's got side effects. It's not cocaine. It's get into work early.

When I was a school student, my teachers used to rush in, five seconds before registration, cursing the trains, their broken-down cars, the traffic, their kids, or just the whole world. I remember having my register taken while one teacher gulped down a bowl of Frosties. I thought that was what teachers did. I followed this model for the first year or so of my career, negotiating the North Circular, the photocopier and my bursting pigeonhole in about five seconds before zooming off to do my register. I wasn't happy.

I'm not a person who works well under pressure. I like to be organised, in control. There had to be an alternative. One morning, I had to put notices in registers, photocopy 30 sets of a short story and see the deputy head, which required me to speak lucidly. I knew I couldn't do it all in my customary five seconds, so I hatched a plan. I'd get into school by 8am. It was a revelation. There was no queue for the photocopier. I caught the deputy head and even made sense. I got my stuff ready for my lessons and had a vaguely leisurely cup of coffee. A new me was born.

I now get into school at 7am. It makes perfect sense to me. I have a clear, quiet hour-and-a-half to prepare lessons, answer memos, empty my pigeonhole and check my email. It's relaxed and civilised, even when it's dark outside. I've come to love mornings. Roaming around empty corridors, coffee machine working, it gives me a strange sense of efficiency that evaporates as soon as children enter the building and the work of the day starts.

I soon realised I wasn't the only one to have stumbled across the joy of early mornings. In my previous school, as in this one, there was a gang who also got a kind of self-satisfied buzz from catching the photocopier before it collapsed from exhaustion. My best chats have been with this gang. It's the only time of day you can exchange civilised words. You get to know things about these fellow teachers that you don't know about your other colleagues - early morning things. The state of the roads outside their house, the vagaries of their cars, the sleeping patterns of their children.

I celebrated one of my birthdays drinking coffee and eating croissants with them - all before 7.30am, and we still managed to get our lesson planning done. It was brilliant.

Rising ridiculously early is not without its drawbacks. By the end of the week, exhaustion sets in, and your partner is probably more than sick of having the light turned on while trying to catch some sleep. You've got to be free from family ties. But for the moment, I'm making the most of my early mornings. You feel a strange fondness for your kids when they're not there. And after an early cup of coffee, an hour's marking before 8.30am can even seen bearable.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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