The joy and elation of my wife becoming pregnant was followed by the serious business of the practicalities of how we were going to manage a tiny person in our lives.
At the time, I was head of English at a fantastic school in East London, working the usual 12-hour days. My wife was self-employed.
I had heard about shared parental leave (SPL), but only in a vague “something Clegg did in the coalition” way. But as I’m a fully fledged “trailer” (the term used for teachers who earn less than their partners), we decided to explore the option further (you can find lots of information at bit.ly/ParentLeave).
Financially, the lack of meaningful maternity for self-employed people made taking the option a no-brainer. My lower salary also proved to be decisive. In addition, the memory of colleagues bemoaning all their money going on childcare made the decision for us.
We decided that I would take leave from three days before the due date – which was fortunately in July, just days before the end of the school year.
My wife took a few weeks off, but I took the full nine months of statutory leave, plus a couple of months unpaid, so I could take a whole school year in total.
My school was incredibly supportive. The novelty factor created some intrigue, but overall it was about making it work in professional terms. My school had a simple policy that was easy to follow and my HR representative took me through every stage.
The only downside of the decision was the surprisingly antiquated reactions from other parents and bystanders. It’s complex, but to simplify attitudes: a father taking SPL is “playing” at parenting, and a mother returning to work so soon must be heartless and cold.
Both attitudes are wrong, and I was lucky to have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to share this very important time with our little daughter – more fathers should.
I would offer these tips if you do:
1. Speak to your head and line manager as soon as possible. They should be supportive, but will appreciate notice in advance.
2. Male teachers get statutory paternity leave in addition to SPL, so work out when you want to take all your leave.
3. Your policy will determine whether you can take it in one chunk or spread it across the year – make it work for the school and for you.
4. Plan how you both will return to work, but prepare for different feelings after the little one arrives. You can change your plans at any stage.
5. Brace yourself for people being unsure about how to take this challenge to gender stereotypes. Even your liberal friends are likely to judge.
Sam Draper has been head of English in three inner-city London schools and has been teaching for 15 years. He is a member of The Maternity Teacher/Paternity Teacher Project