Earlier this month I found myself waiting somewhat impatiently for my copy of TES to plop through my letter box. As the issue was devoted to women in educational leadership, and as I am one of these very creatures, I was keen to see what was on offer.
But I am no leader-in-waiting in the wings. I am no talent crushed by glass ceilings; no young, career-hungry professional wondering how I will combine motherhood with my success. I am one of the legions of women who keep the wheels of our schools turning; I am in that strange, neglected group: the part-timer.
It’s a something and nothing role. You flit between home and school, desperately seeking that elusive work-life balance. For many women, the life of the full-time teacher, leader or not, is just not compatible with that of primary carer. It’s OK while everything is fine, but it doesn’t take much (like vomit or snot) to put a spanner in the works.
As the part-timer, and especially if you aren’t based in a class, like a planning, preparation and assessment or intervention teacher, you are pretty much at the bottom of the teaching heap. Easily forgotten (because you’re not there all the time), you are regularly the last one to find out that the new rule for going back to class at the end of playtime is no longer “lining up” but “straight in”, or that the staffroom is out of bounds because all the chairs are being re-covered.
If there’s ever an important meeting you can guarantee it’ll happen when you aren’t in. If you’re lucky enough to have a room of your own, you can be sure that things will be moved in your absence, without your say-so.
And, of course, while other people are messing up her (or his) displays and muddling up her (or his) resources, the part-timer is doing other stuff with her (or his) time. My friend Z is a musician and runs a children’s choir. B is training for a half-marathon. J gives talks and attends teachery-type debates. Aside from running around after our own kids – and, in my case, common to those of us whose children have additional needs, running around after their various appointments as well – we have skills and talents that our employers know nothing about.
There seems to be an assumption that because you work part-time your attention is elsewhere. That because you have made the decision to take the pay cut and simplify your life, you somehow don’t have as much commitment to your pupils as your full-time colleagues do.
It’s true that for a long time I didn’t have the energy for anyone else’s child. I take my hat off to all those sleep-deprived parents of new babies who struggle in to work every day, because when it was my turn I couldn’t. Maybe it’s a special needs thing. Too many overnighters in hospital.
But I found that a funny thing happens when you step out in front of the children you teach. Your heart expands, and you find you have room enough to spare for more children than you thought possible. We might be part-time; our careers might be on hold, or stalled, or paused, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t just as much, if not more, to bring to school. Don’t overlook us, those of us who care.
Nancy Gedge is a teacher at Widden Primary School in Gloucester