Why must parenthood mean losing the race?

26th September 2014 at 01:00
If we don't give female teachers better support in returning to work after having children, the profession will lose valuable members

Five years ago, I packed up my classroom and sobbed out my farewells to teaching as I heaved my pregnant self off on maternity leave. I fully expected to be back at work by the time my son was six months old. Teaching was my life, and with my expertise in childcare and behaviour management I would obviously take to motherhood like a duck to water.

Three years later, my son finally slept through the night and I stopped crying and rocking in the corner. I'd abandoned the idea of returning to work fairly early on. Teaching requires you to be fresh, sharp and full of enthusiasm; I was knackered and face down in the biscuits. My career could wait.

But now my child is 5 and goes to school. Every day I drop him off and pick him up and chat to the other mums in the playground. No one knows that I sneakily peer through the classroom windows at the displays, hands itching for my giant stapler and a roll of backing paper, or that I sometimes wake up with the urge to laminate stuff. And I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed, but Year 3 have been building these amazing dens out of branches, and they hang lanterns in them and decorate them with tinsel at Christmas and I want to play, damn it.

I miss teaching. There, I said it. I miss adventures with my class, and awe and wonder, and sniggering over comedy spellings in the staffroom. I miss story time on the carpet and the smell of Unifix bricks. Most of all, I miss having 30 unintentionally hilarious, bright-eyed little weirdos as my teammates as we navigate our way through the curriculum.

So going back to teaching should be the easiest decision in the world for me but it's not. Here's why.

  • Mortification: I didn't exactly leave my last teaching position covered in glory. "Rolled in the crumbs of shame" would be more accurate. I fell pregnant two weeks into my year-long contract, after which I spent most of the time when I wasn't in hospital either retching in the stationery cupboard or chain-eating cottage cheese, which was the only food I could keep down. A request for a reference is likely to lead to the following exchange: "Lisa? I don't remember a Lisa." "You do. Got knocked up.smelled a bit of cottage cheese.was sick in a book bag during guided reading."
  • Things have moved on: Some idiot has abolished the Return to Teaching scheme. How am I supposed to get up to speed with all the changes in the curriculum now? Being an enterprising sort, I emailed a few schools to ask if they'd have me in for work experience but no one replied. Why? Have they somehow deduced from my three-line email that I am a substandard teacher? Has word spread about my book bag-puking tendencies? Whatever the reason, it leaves me in a pickle.
  • Paperwork and petty bureaucracy: Planning. Meetings about planning. Meetings about meetings. Assessment. Meetings about assessment. Meetings about planning assessment. Oh, bore off and just let me teach!
  • Michael Gove: Sigh. He may have been binned, but what a cockwomble.
  • Work-life balance: In December, I watched my child being a lacklustre innkeeper in his nativity play. He spent the duration of Away in a Manger pulling a wedgie out of his bum crack. This month, I eagerly anticipate watching him lose the egg-and-spoon race at sports day. This stuff is parenting gold, as is being there to pick him up at 3.15pm and snuggling on the sofa to listen to him read every afternoon. How much of my son's life am I going to miss if I dedicate myself to other children? How many fun weekends with him will I lose because I'm slaving over my laptop? How tired and snappy am I going to be because I worked until 1am? I want to be the sort of parent that I used to admire as a teacher, but how can I be that parent if I have to miss so much?
  • Always being ill: Primary schools should be surrounded by biohazard tape, with free anti-SARS masks handed out with QTS. Call me crazy, but I've grown fond of not spending every September to July expelling mucus and mainlining Lemsip.
  • Miscellaneous: Playground duty. Synthetic phonics. Ofsted. "Mrs Jarmin, I think I'm going to.bleuurghhhh." Nits. Report writing. Division on a numberline. That one parent who tries to get away with sending Ribena in their child's water bottle. ("No, they are not allowed squash. Yes, I will be able to tell even if you send in clear, flavoured water. Yes, I do plan on being this pedantic for the entire school year.")
    • It's a dilemma. If, despite the paperwork, the pressure, the pointless initiatives, the inspections, the education secretaries and the headlice, you still ache to get back into the classroom and teach, then I'd like to think you are a teacher and the profession needs you.

      So why is it now so difficult for stay-at-home mums to return to our much-loved teaching careers? Where's the support? And when you think about all those important events in your child's life that you'll miss because of the lack of flexibility, it makes taking that step even harder.

      When I qualified, I thought that teaching and I would be together for life. I knew we'd have ups and downs and that we'd have to learn to live with each other's faults. I even suspected that there might be the odd trial separation. Never once did I consider that having my own child would break us up. I can overcome many issues in the teaching profession, but without support and flexibility I'm not sure that we have a future. I'm sorry, teaching - it's not me, it's you.

      Lisa Jarmin is a qualified teacher and freelance writer based in the North West of England

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