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Four tips for returning from maternity leave

With hindsight, these steps would have been useful, suggests Rebecca Misselbrook

Maternity leave teachers

With hindsight, these steps would have been useful, suggests Rebecca Misselbrook

It is the night before returning to school. Lunch is made. My bag is packed. My badge and keys are hanging by the front door.

And now to face the moment I had been dreading – what on Earth can I wear that doesn’t make me look like a walrus in leggings?!

I remember this feeling all too well from when I decided to return to work nine months after giving birth to my daughter. It is a feeling all working mothers will be familiar with and sadly there is no handbook as to how to prepare for those first few days and weeks back in the classroom.

After nine months of "Rhyme Time", baby groups and minimal sleep, you barely remember how to tie your own shoelaces let alone how to teach subjunctive form and long division to 30 bright-eyed Year 6 children.

So what can we do to make the transition back easier? With hindsight, this is what I should have done.

1. Don’t be a stranger

It is natural to feel that maternity leave is such precious time and to not want to waste a single moment away from your baby. However, you are entitled to 10 paid "Keeping in Touch" (KIT) days during your maternity leave. I used mine to attend insets and CPD but probably only went into school a handful of times.

In hindsight, I wish I had popped in more during the final few months of maternity leave so I knew more about what was being updated in the school, changes in policies and to meet new staff.

It is also a good opportunity to practise being away from your baby and for your baby to learn to be with a new caregiver. The first day back can feel a bit like you are a stranger in your own home, so avoid that by using your Keeping in Touch days – it helps to have the bonus money when your pay reduces too.

2. Honesty is the best policy

Be open and honest with your line managers and senior leadership team. Talk to them while you are on maternity leave about when you plan to return and any concerns you have. If you start to feel cold feet about returning, speak to them early enough about pushing it back or a flexible return. Many have done it themselves so understand.

Talk with your headteacher about your timetable for when you return and whether you want to return full-time or part-time and try not to feel pressured. I was lucky enough to be able to retain my job as deputy headteacher of a larger than average primary school and return to work part-time for four days a week. This gives me adequate time to complete my professional duties as well as spend time with my family.

3. Phone a friend

I vividly remember driving to school on my first day and not being able to see through the windscreen of my car and realising it wasn’t the rain outside but my own big, fat, sloppy tears. It can feel like a long and lonely drive into school so arrange to car share or meet a colleague on your first day back.

It is also perfectly natural to feel anxious on your first day back. If you were returning from sick leave you would most likely have a phased return but this does not happen after maternity despite being off for nearly a year. Ease yourself in on those first few days and weeks – there is no pressure to be on top form straight away.

4. Daily preparation

I used to wonder how I would ever manage to get myself, as well as a tired, hungry baby, ready for school, all before 7.30 am, when I could barely get myself there on time when it was just me!

The key to this is preparation. As boring as it sounds, make the effort to pack your car, make your lunch, lay out your clothes, pack the baby’s bags – even get your cereal in the bowl if it saves a previous 45 seconds. Marginal gains are key here and I am not talking about improving your class data!

Returning to work from any period of time away is a tough challenge – even after six weeks summer holiday, I doubt whether I can remember how to teach.

However, the important thing to remember is not to put too much pressure on yourself and take time to readjust to the next chapter in your working life.

Rebecca Misselbrook is Deputy Headteacher at White Meadows Primary Academy in Littlehampton, West Sussex. She tweets @RebeccaMisselb2

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