Holding the baby

23rd October 2015 at 00:00

Everyone at my school is pregnant or on maternity leave. OK, not everyone, but enough to fill the staffroom wall with photos of new arrivals and get the secretaries bulk-buying congratulations cards.

While such a cluster of baby news is clearly cause for celebration, I imagine the joy of senior managers may be limited. I doubt the business of running a school is made easier by staff exiting at random points in the year and resurfacing months later in search of part-time work.

As for the new mothers, nobody warns you how stressful going back to work can be. Ten months into a brave new world of baby groups, feeding and nappies, I found returning to the classroom frankly terrifying. Factor in taking on a new class midway through the year, starting out in a job share and leaving my baby for the first time, and the whole business began to look like a step too far.

But I needed to go back. Maternity leave is less fun when the money runs out, too much baby talk can be boring and the world of education was changing at an unprecedented rate: if I stepped out for too long, I feared I might never make it back in. Besides, I missed teaching.

One of my friends didn’t realise how low her confidence had fallen until she returned to work. “I didn’t know how much my self-esteem was tied up in my job until I wasn’t doing it any more,” she told me.

I could sympathise. Although teaching can be dreadful for your self-esteem – one bad observation can send it dropping like a stone – not being a teacher felt worse. But even with that boost, life in school was harder. Before maternity leave, if something went wrong in a lesson I didn’t agonise over it; I simply tried to put it right the next day. Now I spent hours planning, knowing that if I had only a few days to teach the lessons, they’d better be perfect.

On the days I wasn’t working, I felt guilty for “skiving”. I was quiet in staff meetings, telling myself I hadn’t earned the right to speak as I wasn’t a full-time member of staff.

It wasn’t just me. At that school we were micromanaged to the point where we all ended up doubting our instincts. The maternity leave didn’t help, though, and I still found myself wondering why I was less confident than I had been as a newly qualified teacher.

Changing school made a big difference. Working for a head who appreciates that sometimes you have no choice but to leave mid-lesson to deal with chickenpox is a huge relief, and knowing that my job-share partner and I are trusted to manage the class has been a welcome revelation.

So does maternity leave really create a drop in confidence or was I just returning to the wrong school? Either way, if you’re a manager, it seems wise to do all you can to ensure that having a child of their own doesn’t affect a staff member’s ability to teach other people’s.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands. For advice on easing your way back into work after maternity leave, see pages 34-35

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