Not enough hours in the day? Cut those you spend in school

28th July 2006 at 01:00
Half the salary, but twice the happiness - that's how religious studies teacher Tessa Taylor describes her current working life.

A year ago she cut her hours down to four days a week. From September she'll be teaching three days a week, giving herself time for training to become a priest, and crucially, time for herself.

The decision to go part-time, she says, has been rejuvenating and given her renewed enthusiasm for her job. Already 65, she feels as if she could go "on and on". "I love teaching," she says, "and adore every second in the classroom. My current lifestyle has given me so much energy."

Miss Taylor says the sacrifice of thousands of pounds a year in income from when she was an assistant head at Chaucer technology school, Canterbury, has been worth it. She is much happier being an ordinary classroom teacher on reduced hours.

In many ways she was the victim of her own success as a senior manager. In the early 1990s, when responsible for pastoral co-ordination in the school and in charge of child protection, her team became pioneering. They took on a school counsellor, unusual in those days, and their introduction of peer counselling attracted national TV coverage. But as time went by and the team became more effective, children increasingly began to open up about their problems. "I just couldn't leave the work behind. I found myself carrying children's difficulties around in my head all the time. In the end I was crying every night and had to take time off work."

However, Miss Taylor had a reputation as a good teacher and the school was happy for her to return to the classroom. For a year she taught across all subjects, wherever she was needed, then she was given a permanent post in the religious studies department, which she has relished ever since.

Her decision to go part-time was her own and has given her a completely new lease of life. She knows it makes sense - not least from a whole group of teacher friends she holidays with who have opted for part-time working.

This summer 15 of them are sharing a villa together in France.

Tessa Taylor takes Wednesdays off and often meets up with 41-year-old Guy Banyard, another part-time teacher, to explore the history and countryside of Kent. They go for walks, visit historic sites, explore the coast and the villages of the Weald and enjoy a pub lunch together. She and Mr Banyard also share an allotment with two other part-time teachers: "I don't really do the work," says Miss Taylor, "I just supply the gin and tonics and enjoy the produce." However, during her two days free from teaching next September, she will be called on to lead more and more church services.

This summer Miss Taylor was admitted as a reader (lay preacher) to the Church of England, her first major step towards priesthood.

Mr Banyard, who teaches sociology and politics three days a week to sixth formers at Norton Knatchbull school, a boys' grammar in Ashford, had given up a full-time post as head of house at a secondary in Bromley. The job, he says, had taken up all his time and energy and required working days that began at 7.30am and didn't finish until nearly 12 hours later. He says: "I was just working and working, trying to do the job to perfection. It got me down and I ended up with pneumonia. That shook me up; made me realise that there had to be more to life."

Mr Banyard now spends his days off walking or cycling, catching up with friends, going to matinee performances in London during the winter. From September he will begin an MA in philosophy at Kent University. He says:

"Work doesn't dominate, but I enjoy it more. I have more time to prepare and feel I am a more effective teacher for it. In my former job I often felt I was teaching on the back foot. I was never able to give the teaching my full commitment, having to mark in class just to get through the workload. I don't have to do any of that now and teaching sixth form is a dream job for me.

"I can't update my car and financially things are much tighter, but I don't have a family and I can still go on holidays and meet up with people for lunch. More and more people I know are not working every day of the week.

My close friends are all part-timers."

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