BEYOND THE CLASSROOM: How hobbies enrich your life

English teacher and mother-of-two HELEN MARS argues that, for both staff and students, having a wide range of interests and extracurricular activities can open hitherto unforeseen doors while enriching your life

WE often extol the virtues of extracurricular activities for pupils, but it’s easy to forget how much these can enrich the lives of staff too. The ever-changing list of clubs run in school time at RGS hints at some of the interests, hobbies and quirks of the teachers here, and that’s just the start.

The maths department surely lead the charge, with chess, bridge, general knowledge quizzing and alternative rock music all catered for by the staff. Modern foreign language staff speak a wide variety of languages, including Dutch, alongside their classroom staples of French, Spanish and German, as well as counting rapping and rock-climbing amongst their achievements.

The English department list still-life painting, hiking, appearing in musical theatre and cycling alongside the more predictable answer of ‘reading!’, when asked about their pastimes.

As the owner of two very small children, it’s hard to find much time for more ambitious or far-flung adventures, but I’ve tried to use my recent second maternity leave to achieve more personal goals outside the classroom.

As part of a national initiative called the Maternity Teacher Paternity Project (MTPT), I’ve been getting back into academic research and school improvement project planning, aided by monthly telephone coaching sessions with a professional coach provided by the MTPT organisation. Part of this is about widening my professional contacts, which I mostly do through Twitter (@HelenMars4), working with a grassroots group called #TeamEnglish: we’re an 8,000-strong teacher group who share resources, ideas and discussions on texts and teaching.

Through my work with this group, I was contacted by Hodder Education, and have since published two new A-level study guides on the Love Through The Ages anthology and contemporary Welsh poet and rising literary star Owen Sheers’ collection Skirrid Hill.

Writing about teaching and about effective returns to work for women in other industries led to more invitations, and so I was pleased to realise a long-term ambition to have articles published so far this year in The Times Educational Supplement, Teaching English (the journal of the National Association for the Teaching of English) and The Northern Echo, and am currently working on literary critical pieces for the English magazine e-mag.

The challenge of writing about texts fired up my enthusiasm for teaching ahead of my return from maternity leave, but it’s also allowed me to think more widely about the challenges of balancing working life and motherhood.

I try to have non-teaching related interests too and spent part of my year off retraining as a breastfeeding adviser and volunteering with new mums. What I had not appreciated until recently was how one aspect of your life can interact with another in unexpected ways: for example, my love of gardening and tending my allotment has led to interesting discussions about how we might incorporate horticulture into a wellbeing project at RGS (details to follow!).

We often point out to pupils that hobbies can give them new friends and new confidence and allow them to make links and connections that may open hitherto unforeseen doors: the same is true for us teachers.