Hands up if you have ever come close to strangling a parent at a consultation evening? I am, of course, referring to that familiar moment when a parent cannot resist referring to our cushy job - the short hours and "those long summer holidays". In theory we do, after all, work only 195 days a year and 27.5 hours a week - most workers would envy such conditions.
If such comments have become more commonplace than they once were, it may be because schools offer far fewer extra-curricular activities than before. Weekend football matches have largely become a thing of the nostalgic past. Foreign trips have folded, and evening sports and leisure activities are limited.
This is no trivial matter - curtailment of the informal curriculum will affect a school's whole ethos. The atmosphere may become negative, the relationship between staff and pupils may deteriorate, behaviour may be adversely affected, and there may be less school-community identification.
All this lowers staff morale, which is already poor, bringing increased levels of teacher absence, stress, and applications for early retirement. No wonder recruitment has fallen by 11 per cent over the past year.
So how cushy is a teacher's life, and how realistic is the weekly figure of 7.5 hours' work on class preparation? The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities obviously has doubts on the latter. Its talk of inflation-busting pay increases for the next three years is based on a management shopping list - nothing more than a catalogue of deteriorating conditions - which insists that teachers' extra-curricular activities become part of the core job.
I decided, in December, to take one school week in my life to tally up the number of extra-curricular hours I put in (see box left).
It came to a total of 25 hours, not including my daily half-hour lunchtime dining room patrol.
Critics could point out that a Christmas panto is an annual event and has skewed my figures, but in the two previous weeks I had run a trip to a musical in Edinburgh and an excursion to a cinema. Nor do prelim exams have to be marked every week, but the following weekend I spent five hours writing up the fourth year report cards.
Most of my colleagues admit to working 20 hours or more a week on class preparation and marking. I am not sure how a teacher would survive otherwise.
I believe COSLA is wrong to demand that we work longer statutory hours to safeguard extra-curricular activities. Why should teachers have to give up anything to receive the pay rise they deserve?
The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has pointed out that we would have to receive a 40 per cent pay rise to bring us up to the salary levels of 1974. Only four nations in Europe have poorer salaries and conditions for teachers.
Teachers' salaries start at pound;14,000, the average for other professions in Scotland is pound;25,000. Is it any wonder young graduates are giving the profession a body swerve? Private sector employees are averaging pay awards of 6.5 per cent, more than double what teachers received in 1998. For more than a decade, teachers' pay - despite colossal overload from curriculum innovation - has lagged behind inflation, by 2 per cent in real terms since 1995.
If a statutory 35-hour week were imposed on schools, as happened a decade ago, we would lose more than we would gain. Schools have never recovered from the mid-Eighties reduction in the number of teachers willing to assist in extra-curricular activities. If we concede on conditions of service, and local pay bargaining comes in, salaries will eventually drift down again, and by 2005 or 2006 we will be back in the same boat.
How then can we increase the number of extra-curricular school activities and enhance the ethos of a secondary school without imposing extra hours on a teacher's contract? Well, if the headteachers of the future must have an MEd degree or at least specific training for their job, perhaps teachers seeking promotion should be asked what contribution they have made to unpaid extra-curricular activities.
John Lloyd is principal teacher of modern studies at Inveralmond Community High School, West Lothian
OUT OF HOURS
FRIDAY 6-10pm marking fourth year upper General and Credit prelim exams
SATURDAY 6-10pm again marking fourth year exams
SUNDAY 1-5pm correcting Higher grade essays; 6-8pm preparing for Monday's classes
MONDAY 6-8pm preparing for Tuesday's classes
TUESDAY 6.30-8.30pm unpaid Higher tuition for adults who are unemployed or single mums or older learners who need extra help
WEDNESDAY 6-11pm, along with two other teachers take coach party to a Christmas panto
THURSDAY 6-8pm preparing for Friday's classes