6 tips for returning to teaching from paternity leave

The staffroom horror stories are true – but becoming a parent can also re-energise your teaching, say these two dads

Alan Gillespie and Lewis Strang-Roy

6 tips for returning to teaching from paternity leave

Having a new baby in the house is notoriously challenging, but balancing this with a global pandemic has proven to be particularly complex. As new fathers return to school and leave their wee ones for the first time in months, how can they best prepare themselves?

As the emotions of the first few days of fatherhood subside, you begin to get the hang of the samba rhythm of sleepless nights and nappy changes. But then you realise you have to accommodate teaching into all this madness. You’ve seen others doing it, so it must be achievable? Prepare for an end to lovely, uninterrupted dreams. An end to eating dinner before 9pm. An end to arriving early and working late, to keeping up with emails and admin. All of this is gone, replaced by daydreams about the gorgeous wee muppet you’ve left at home.

It is hard to come back to work after paternity leave. You’re leaving your child during their most formative and exciting days. The staffroom horror stories are true. You will get less sleep than you thought possible. The stress of having a baby will culminate in perhaps the most challenging time in your professional and personal life.

Clearly, you don’t want to let your pupils down by being neglectful or emotionally absent during their own formative moments. How can we get this balance right for new dads who want to maintain high standards in the classroom but feel involved in the amazing adventures happening every day at home?

1. Negotiate a phased return, if you can

Those first days back at school are as long as a day in the jail. But schools are family-oriented places, and if your timetable allows you to come in late, or leave early, it’ll make a huge difference. Ask senior management and colleagues for a little support here; it’s entirely reasonable. If you can plan ahead with resources you will be more able to acclimatise to work. Remember, no one will judge you for leaving that bit earlier for the first few weeks.

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2. Manage expectations both at home and in school

Don’t promise to be home by 4pm if you’ve got a meeting that always overruns. Get your marking done during agreed windows of time that don’t spoil baths or bottles or cuddles. And be careful with agreeing to take on extra responsibilities in school. There are enough change and transition happening at home.

3. Pause extracurricular duties

Teachers and pupils get huge pleasure from lunchtime and after-school clubs, but here is another instance where you can lean on colleagues for support. Can they take drama club while you mark some jotters? Can they supervise football training so you can get home for quality time? Remember, baby photos are a wonderful form of bribery. You can always pick up where you left off once things settle.

4. Take care of yourself

It is more important than ever that you are happy and healthy. Before you begin sculpting your dad-bod with 4am fridge raids, or neglecting your exercise regime, find time for physical exercise. Try to eat at least some fruit. Find short periods of time for yourself; even a small break will help you re-set and manage stress.

5. Plan to make memories during the next school holiday

Yes, teaching is a fantastic and noble and rewarding vocation, but all you want to do right now is be at home with your family. Fortunately, the next break is never far away, and it’s never too early to make exciting plans. Book a weekend away, put your name down for swimming lessons, plan fun visits with family. It’ll ensure that your time off is precious.

6. Share lots of pictures/videos/updates

Upgrade your iCloud storage, because you’re going to need it. Surround yourself with photographs and videos of the family you’ve left at home, and make sure you get regular updates throughout the day.

Finally, remember this: when you become a father, you may feel a renewed appreciation for the children in your class. You suddenly have huge common ground with the parents from your school, so use that to help develop your connection with home.

It is the most magical and unique time – let that joy spread into your work. Feel proud that you’re making a difference for someone else’s special little person. Yes, it’s hard. But reach out to your colleagues for support where you can. Let this experience re-energise your teaching and your career.

Alan Gillespie is principal teacher of English at Fernhill School, in Glasgow. Lewis Strang-Roy teaches at Netherlee Primary School, in East Renfrewshire

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