I returned to full-time teaching in September 2015, to a new role at a new school, after four years of maternity leave and part-time work. By the end of the month, I was separating from my husband and looking to relocate with my two sons (aged 4 and 1).
To say that academic year was a challenge for me would be an understatement. But I did learn a lot about how to negotiate upheaval while getting on with my day job. And in that year, I also somehow managed a move 100 miles back to my home town, having secured a promotion to head of department.
Going through a divorce is complex, difficult and emotional, and especially so if it’s unexpected. Throw responsibility for the progress of hundreds of students into the mixture and you can find yourself in terrifyingly choppy waters.
So how do you navigate divorce as a teacher?
1. Speak with your line manager
The first few times you say the words “I’m getting divorced” can be incredibly difficult, but it’s important that your line manager knows what’s happening so that they can support you.
What that support looks like will depend entirely on your personal situation and what the school is in a position to offer, but they can’t do anything to help you until you speak with them. I’d suggest arranging a private meeting, as soon as you’re able to.
2. Share information on a need-to-know basis
Once you’ve started telling people (and that does get easier, by the way), it’s natural that you will want certain people at work to know: your work buddies or people in your department.
However, you’re under no obligation to share your personal life with everyone.
You may get some awkward questions from that history teacher you only speak to when you’re both at the photocopier, but it’s OK to politely and firmly refuse to answer.
3. Know when you need to have a moment
You might find that your emotions bubble up out of nowhere and all of a sudden you’re having a little cry in the stationery cupboard. That’s OK. Take a moment.
If you need more than a moment because you’re not sure you’ll be composed enough for Year 9, then it’s OK to ask for help and for somebody to cover your lesson. It’s important that you’re not left in a vulnerable state with a class in front of you and it’s in everybody’s best interests that you’re supported appropriately.
4. Focus on the short term
When you’re getting divorced, it can feel like the whole world has just been turned upside down. Things you felt certain about become unclear. It’s incredibly disorientating. What you can rely on, though, is predictability at work (you’ll still have Year 7 last lesson every Wednesday), and this can be a welcome distraction.
So that you don’t feel overwhelmed by thinking too much about the future, try to focus on the short term. What lessons do you have today? What do you need to have photocopied ready for tomorrow? Which assembly is it this Friday? You’ll get through this a small step at a time. You will.
Rebecca Foster is head of English and associate senior leader at Wyvern St Edmund’s Learning Campus