My students treated me with the kind of sympathy reserved for idiots who haven't quite internalised the sex education talks we had at 13

16th September 2005 at 01:00
I have spent this evening reading an article entitled "Contraceptive choices after 30" and wondering what happened to my life. Not so long ago I'd have been stretched out on the sofa, immersed in Cosmo, pondering the relative merits of the free perfume samples. Now I've cleared a space among the plastic bricks and baby-changing paraphernalia, and I'm thinking, pill or patch? Last time you heard from me, I was the proud owner of a fledgling career as a newly promoted head of department and a large collection of handbags. I am now the proud owner of a his and hers unisex changing bag (Involve Dad in Every Aspect of Baby's Life) and two children under two.

The career is still fledgling. I have worked for a grand total of 10 weeks this year. Is there ever a good time to have children?

They say that patience, a can-do attitude and a sense of humour are essential qualities in a good teacher. I think my head must have drawn on all of these when I went to see her to discuss returning from maternity leave, already 20 weeks pregnant with my second child. My non-teaching friends reacted with horror when I outlined my plans to return to work for a term, before taking leave to have another baby. In other professions, they said, I would be signing my own career suicide note along with my MAT B1 form.

My colleagues, however, took it in their good-natured stride, and I had a brilliant term back in the bosom of my department, before leaving to have another little boy who is now two weeks old. I felt a bit sheepish arriving back in school wearing the same maternity clothes I was wearing when I'd left a year before. Waddling round the playground on break duty gave me this uncanny sense of dej... vu, until I realised that I really was pregnant only a year before. My students treated me with the kind of sympathy reserved for idiots who haven't quite internalised the sex education talks we had at 13.

Wonderful as it is to have two children, I can't help worrying about the effect it will have on my career. I was just getting into my stride as head of department when I left to have my first baby, and I had just rearranged my folders and cleared my desk after returning from maternity leave when I was off to have my second. I won't be inducting the staff that I hired at the end of term, and I won't be the one following through on my development plan. I don't want my colleagues to think that I don't take my career seriously, and I don't want my family to think that they are second best.

What's a woman to do? I'm beginning to suspect that the perfect balance can only be achieved with a large retinue of live-in staff and children who sleep through the night from day one.

So as you are all starting the new term with Inset days and numbering new sets of textbooks, I am starting my second September of calls from the health visitor and the non-stop round of sterilising bottles and fishing out dummies from the back of the sofa. It's wonderful being at home with my baby, but in the rare moments of silence I get while living with a one-year-old and a two-week-old, I tune in to whatever part of the school day I happen to be missing, and wonder what's going on in the department that I care about. I worry about how I'm going to make it all work and how I'm going to do justice to everyone. Probably with those qualities that teachers need to draw on every day: patience, a can-do attitude, and that old fail-safe, a sense of humour.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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