Why winding down can be bad for you

9th September 2005 at 01:00
It's a new term and I need to change my brain setting from "mushy" to "marvellous". It's quite hard to adjust from "should I move up to factor six now" and "shall I have ice and lemon in my G and T" to "the supply teacher's sick, the mini-bus has broken down stranding Class 7 at the spider sanctuary, there's a parent on the phone in tears and Julia's lost her second pair of glasses this week down the sluice".

I do wonder whether the return to school should be staged, one problem at a time. Perhaps we should phase the shift from working into holiday mode, too. It can be just as hard to switch from solving a million problems a day to shuffling around in swimsuit and flip-flops when the only crises are to do with your bodily comforts. I'm sure this yo-yo thinking is as bad for your brain as yo-yo dieting is for your body, and there must be a way of achieving a balance.

I went on holiday with two teachers this summer and we decided to leave on the last day of term, thinking it would be the best way to unwind quickly.

Unfortunately, Catherine, who is accustomed to being in charge of 700 primary children, was unable to make the simplest decision, and Elizabeth lost the power of speech and could only manage "blubbleubbleub" when trying to tell me that I was driving the wrong way. Up a one-way street. Well, as I said to the policeman later, my brain was on holiday too and, in any case, I'm not a geography teacher.

I wonder, too, about my colleagues who are about to retire, especially the headteachers. What can it be like to be thinking strategically and motivating teams of stakeholders one minute and having tea in the garden centre the next? Surely it would be better if retirement could happen gradually - without having a detrimental effect on your pension, obviously.

The retiring teacher could ease into Richard and Judydom while giving their successor the benefit of all those years of experience. We have an ageing population of teachers in special schools and I can see that, in 10 or 15 years time, our schools will be full of people, past their best, hanging on to their positions so they get their full pension. I hope not to be one of them, so I might start winding down gradually.

Say I work a 50-hour week now, and I retire in 15 years; that's 15 x 40 x 50 hours, that's 30,000 hours left; if I worked an hour less a week starting now, I'd finish off my career working... erm... as I explained to my accountant, I'm not a maths teacher either.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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