This Wednesday Tot and I spent a few hours in Dulwich Park with a friend and her baby. I met her when we were both doing Teaching Leaders and this post is partly inspired by some of the chats we had about being parent teachers…
When someone introduces themselves as a teacher, the first thing you often get is a mention of the holidays, swiftly followed by a comment about how bonkers you must be to want to spend your whole day with teenagers.
Aside from the moodiness and inappropriate comments (and that’s just colleagues after a long day) there are other reasons why teaching isn’t as ‘perfect’ and ‘easy’ as some people make it out to be. Yes, we have great holidays but balancing two of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done – parenting and teaching – means I need a rest and recharge every 7 weeks. It’s half term in a week and both Bearded Man and I are flagging, big time, already!
You need to be on top form to face a class full of teens and I have to say my emotions got the better of me several times throughout my pregnancy and when I had just returned to work. No hiding behind your desk or disappearing to sit on a loo seat in my profession. Toilet breaks are as regimented for us as for the pupils. But it’s not just working long hours during your pregnancy that might be an issue, it’s the long hours once you’ve got baba.
Since starting my part-time role in September I have been counting my blessings daily: organised department with supportive, skilled colleagues; overall great behaviour with a really lovely atmosphere… And yet I’m still knackered and have already had a day off ill – I was ill much longer than a day but working part time means I didn’t get the benefit of sick pay for some of those sickly days!! And that’s coming from someone who had zero days off for the first few years of teaching.
In teaching, where you can easily wrack up 36 hours by Wednesday, there is always more you could give: another kid to help out with a piece of homework, more precise planning for that bottom set Year 8 who haven’t quite mastered reading yet, another meeting to attend… Not an ideal situation when it comes to childcare and wanting to spend time with children you actually produced!
I don’t believe I’m unique in feeling the pressure to return to work, stay in the loop, and progress to the higher echelons of my profession; I’m sure this exists for many. And if you ignore that pressure (whether external or internal) then you’re accused of living an unfulfilling life at home…
I’m lucky enough that I’ve found a part-time job and have a great support network – including free child-care… thanks mum and dad! However, I’m not blinded to the fact that I’ve had to take a step back in my career because being a successful Head of Department would not fit into a work/life balance I feel comfortable with right now. Even working part-time is tough; I’ve been trying really hard not to work on my days at home but the hours I’m at school are jam packed and I have to be super organised. Still, there are always things left on my to-do at the end of the week and perhaps as a working parent I’m going to have to become OK with that.
So yes, I do get a lot of holidays but the inflexibility of my working week perhaps doesn’t make up for that. I can see why there are so many young, single teachers and perhaps why so many are leaving the profession – it’s not the family friendly job you would expect it to be!