A few weeks ago, I received a letter that we had been hoping and praying for. It was the confirmation, from my headteacher, that I can return to work part-time after my maternity leave.
It arrived a couple of weeks after teacher workloads, and teacher retention had been in the news. I wasn’t surprised by the statistic that 27% of teachers who leave the profession are women between 30-39. The reason? Teaching is incompatible with having children.
When we consider that three quarters of teachers are women, this should start to ring alarm bells.
On the face of it, teaching looks like the ideal profession if you have children. Most significantly, perhaps, is the school holidays. There are also advantages of having a professional insight into the education system, so perhaps you can make more informed choices for your own children. As most people who go in to teaching do so because they like working with children and young people, you would think that the teaching profession would be sensitive to the needs of parents.
The reality, however, is quite different. I’ve worked part-time and full-time since becoming a mother, so I do think I’m in quite a good position to judge. We were lucky that we could afford for me to work part-time, although money was fairly tight, and we all know that childcare bills are astronomical.
I did really want to go back to work after my first maternity leave. I missed working; I missed teaching. I went back after having Ben completely fired up. I had ideas, energy and enthusiasm. I worked hard for the three days a week I was in school, and often worked on those evenings, and occasionally on my days off. Ben went to nursery, and he did mostly enjoy it. Like all young children, he would quite often cry when we dropped him off, especially at the start, but then he would often cry when I came to pick him up, especially if he was enjoying what he was doing.
When I was working part-time, I loved my time at work, and I loved my time at home. I felt I had the balance right for our family, and I also felt like a did a good job at work.
Then, in September 2014, we moved, and I changed schools. I went back to full-time teaching.
The first few weeks were relentless, and it didn’t get any easier as time went on. Yes, I had the additional challenge of establishing myself in a new school, but the reality of full time teaching is ridiculous.
Let’s look at the simple maths. I taught a 90% timetable, which is standard for a classroom teacher. That was 21 hours a week.
Each one of those 21 hours had to be planned meticulously. On average, an hour’s lesson takes about an hour to plan and resource. Yes, there are times when you can re-use resources, or tweak a lesson that has been created by someone else, but not very often when you’re an English teacher, and you’re teaching a whole range of ages, stages and abilities.
Then there’s the marking. Again, this is the life of an English teacher, and we do have some of the heaviest marking loads. I’d try to mark each class set once a week, which would take between 2-3 hours. So conservatively, I’d be spending 12-15 hours a week marking.
21 hours teaching + 21 hours resourcing/planning + 13 hours marking = 55 hours per week.
Then there’s the additional stuff. The after-school meetings and the before-school briefings. The phone calls to parents. The detentions, and the hours chasing up those who don’t attend. The endless filling in of spreadsheets and data. The enrichment activity that you’re expected to run. The revision classes. The parents evenings, options evenings, or (my own least favourite) open evenings.
If we allow a conservative 4-5 hours a week for that, we’re now at 60 hours a week.
That’s in an average week. We all know there are weeks when there are extra things going on, and it takes up more and more of your time.
Before Ben was born, I’d try to keep my work at work. I’d be at my desk by 7.15am most days, and would stay until it was done, often leaving after 6.30pm. I’d do the odd thing in the evening or at the weekend, but it was manageable. I’d work in the holidays, of course, normally for a couple of days a week.
When I had Ben, I couldn’t do that. So, when I was working full time, a typical day looked like this:
7.30am Leave house – Tim would usually take Ben to nursery, but if he couldn’t, I’d have to drop him off at 7.30am.
7.55am Get to work. Organise resources for the day, catch up with emails, marking and planning.
8.45am Registration and teaching day starts
Lunchtime More planning, marking, chasing students etc.
3-4pm Teaching day ends. Duty, meetings, detentions, revision classes and enrichment. I had something running every single day except Friday.
4pm Frantically look through resources for next few days and get any photocopying done or resources organised.
4.30pm Leave work to pick up Ben
5pm Pick up Ben (feeling guilty, as he’d been at nursery for 9 and a half hours). Get home, do dinner, chores, bath and bedtime.
7pm Ben’s bedtime. Start working (planning, marking etc) until 10pm.
That was my life, every single working day. On a Friday, I’d give myself the evening off, but of course, the work still had to be done. So I’d find myself working on a Saturday, or a Sunday. In the holidays, I’d put Ben into nursery for an extra day or two, just to get my work done.
I hated it. I hated the 9-10 hour days that Ben was doing at nursery. He was spending more of his awake time with his (brilliant) nursery staff than with us. At the weekends, I’d be stressed about fitting in my work. I could all too easily identify with this fantastic post from Someone’s Mum: “I have felt like there is no way to give enough time, enough effort, enough of me, to both. I feel like I am not enough. Because both roles are all-consuming.”
Working full time had other, unforeseen consequences. At weekends, we were often too exhausted to do much. Ben would ask to stay at home rather than going anywhere: “I just want to stay at home and play with my toys,” he would say. While we were better off financially, our quality of life was suffering significantly. We stopped having hobbies. We didn’t have time to do anything in the house. We didn’t really have the time to get involved in our community.
Since going on maternity leave at the end of October 2015, Ben has dropped down to attending nursery 15 hours a week. Yes, our lives have changed significantly with the arrival of Samuel, but the quality of our lives, and especially Ben’s life, has really improved. Now, he really enjoys his mornings at preschool. He knows I’ll pick him up after lunch, rather than when it’s nearly bedtime. I have time to take him swimming, or to gymnastics. We have playdates and visit friends. Socially, he’s learned to enjoy having friends over to play. He’s much more confident, and I think our relationship is better.
And yet, I worry about the damage that year of full-time nursery did to him. If I could have avoided it, I would have.
I’m returning to work properly in September. Samuel will be 10 months old. It feels like he’ll be much too young to put him in nursery, even though Ben will be in school. His personality will just be emerging. He doesn’t deserve to have a mummy who is constantly working, constantly stressed, and constantly wishing there were more hours in the day. So I’m incredibly glad that I’ll be working part time.
The thing is, this isn’t good enough. Teachers shouldn’t be expected to work 60 hour weeks without proper renumeration. We shouldn’t be spending every single evening and weekend working. We shouldn’t be expected to choose between our jobs and our children. I’ll reiterate that 75% of the teachers in this country are women; surely this is just going to exacerbate the teaching crisis?
I know I’m lucky that we can afford for me to work part time. I know I’m also lucky that my headteacher agreed. But, actually, it’ll work out better for him in the long run: I’m much more likely to stay teaching at my current school, part time. If I’d had to go back full time, I wouldn’t be going back for long, if at all. By letting me work part time, he’s kept me in the profession.