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Job shares can work particularly well in teaching, says Helen Dunford. She should know. She has had a lot of experience in sharing a classroom of seven and eight year olds with another teacher.
Job shares are becoming increasingly common at schools. For Helen Dunford, a primary school teacher in Tring, a job share seemed the perfect solution to carrying on teaching while still being able to spend time with her family.
Helen has three children, two boys and a girl. The eldest, Anthony, is 12. She went back to school when each was six months old, each time as a supply teacher. She stuck to three schools which knew her and had a flexible childminder, which she needed because she could get called up at any time. “It was a bit of a juggle,” says Helen, “but it kept my hand in. I wouldn’t have liked taking a career break for five years.” From supply teaching, she got some one day a week contracts which was easier for childcare. “It meant the childminder got to know the children on a regular basis and it was more structured,” she says. Eventually she built up regular one and two-day a week contracts in different schools and took on job shares.
Then the family moved from Bedfordshire to Tring in Hertfordshire. Rather than go via a teaching agency, Helen wrote to three local primary schools and said she was available for supply teaching, but ultimately wanted a job share with other part-time teachers. “I knew teaching was a career where you could job share,” she said. “I waited for the phone to ring and it did.”
She did supply teaching at first and then got asked to fill in full time for a teacher who had cancer. It was just 10 weeks, but the experience showed Helen that she did not want to do full time work. “Everything else went to pot. Family life went to pot,” she says.
The next year she got a one-day a week contract at Dundale primary school in Tring, where she is now. Eventually she was offered a job share.
For the past two years she has job shared teaching seven and eight year olds doing three days a week while her job share partner has done two days with Helen’s class and one day with another class. This has meant that the two teachers have had a crossover day and have been able to see each other face to face. They have also been communicating via email about issues that have arisen during their part of the week. Class planning is shared across the whole teaching team.
“Professionally it’s brilliant,” says Helen, who has managed to cut out all childminders now that her children are slightly older. Her head teacher allows her to bring her children to school with her and then they can walk to their own school which is just five minutes away. They walk back over to her school when the day ends.
Last term, Helen ran a chess club on Wednesday afternoons which finished at 4pm. Her children get to the school around 3.45pm and they all go home together at the latest by 4.30pm. There is a staff meeting on Thursdays after school so Anthony takes the other children home and their dad is usually at home by the time they get there.
Helen says she takes work home with her, but has a strict rule not to work at the weekend. “It’s family time,” she says. She saves non-school days for catching up on report writing and other paperwork.
If there are courses to go on Helen covers for her job share and vice versa. They usually both attend inset days. The arrangement is very flexible. For instance, Helen can book a longer half term holiday as her job share will work full time to cover for her and Helen will return the favour another time. “We also bounce ideas off each other,” says Helen, adding that the children get the best of two teachers. Helen, for example, is good at teaching French while her job share is good at art. “It’s really good value for money for the school,” says Helen, “and neither of us ends up exhausted.” Each teacher in the school is supposed to take on a curriculum area, but Helen had two last term – French and history – and her job share had geography.
She says she would like eventually to work full time and, indeed, has recently increased her hours, but only when her youngest daughter is at secondary school. “At the moment, I would miss the children too much,” she says.