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Top-class acts who spare no efforts

Adi Bloom reports on exceptional teachers who work up to 66 hours a week and still find time for a hobby.

They work up to 66 hours a week and use their spare time to study for masters degrees or learning to ski. And they have ambitions to become headteachers.

This is the profile of the exceptional teacher, according to researchers at Sheffield university.

Pat Sikes and Pam Cole spent several months interviewing 10 top teachers from primary and secondary schools and further education colleges.

Each was deemed capable of making a significant contribution to effective and inspirational teaching and had been given pound;3,000 to research and implement a project they had designed.

"Without exception, these people are extremely enthusiastic, highly committed, conscientious and describe themselves as well-organised workaholics," said the academics.

The researchers asked the 10 teachers a series of questions about their working lives and professional goals.

In their report, "Exceptional Teachers: Identities and Involvement", presented at the British Educational Research Association conference in Pontypridd last week, they outlined some common traits.

They work an average 53 hours and 45 minutes a week. Most said that the enthusiasm they had upon joining the profession has never gone away.

One teacher said: "Very rarely would I go home and not do something for school. Yes, I do work a lot, through choice."

Another participant in the study said: "I am quite obsessive about getting everything done."

Time not spent working was also used productively. Most have other interests, such as playing a musical instrument, motocross biking or skiing. Two already have PhDs, and most hold or are working towards masters degrees.

They are also eager to seize on career opportunities. One teacher said that while several colleagues considered applying for a Gatsby fellowship, she was the only one who actually did so. Another said: "Some people will just sit and complain for hours and hours, in which time they could have done something about it."

Gatsby fellowships are awarded to maths, science and design and technology teachers. Fellows receive a bursary of pound;3,000 to help them research and implement a project that they have designed.

Most hoped the fellowship would help to advance their careers and had clear professional ambitions. Some wanted to become heads or heads of department.

Others wanted to focus on their subject or pursue a PhD.

"These were teachers who had a clear idea of who they wanted to be, and be seen as being," said the researchers. They were people who proactively went out and found opportunities that enabled them to realise these ambitions."

* more information on Gatsby fellowships see more BERA reports 18

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