Thursday, 14 October 2010

Teacher or Mum? Or Both?

I qualified as a secondary school teacher at the age of 21, so apart from various jobs I did as a student it's the only form of 'work' I've ever known. Why did I put the 'w' word in inverted commas? Well to me, I never really saw it as work. Obviously it was, during term time it was tiring, sometimes I worked 15 hour days, often I'd work weekends. Occasionally I'd leave work early, then sit at home planning lessons or marking books for another 9 hours - yes really! The trouble is, I found it difficult calling it work because I loved it so much - I still do. It's fab getting up knowing that you are guaranteed genuine enthusiasm, ambition, and plenty of laughter at some point. On top of that, the feeling you get at certain points in the year, for example on GCSE results day or at the end of the school show, success and joy, just makes you forget about the long stressful hours you've put in, in order to be able to witness these moments. It's suddenly all worth it and nothing else matters.

It's just like the first time you set eyes on your newborn child, how everyone knows that first cuddle makes you forget all the time and pain it took for them to get there!

I'm a very all or nothing kind of person, so when I was pregnant for the first time, I was petrified about the prospect of not being at work and was only going to take three months off initially. I'd been selected to represent Dorset as the Leading Teacher for my subject which I was immensely proud of, but what if my maternity cover made decisions I didn't like? What if they didn't prepare the students for their exams properly? and I guess if I'm being honest, there was also a strong sense of 'What if my maternity cover makes good decisions?' and 'What if the students like their maternity cover better than me?' You're never going to be able to win in that situation particularly when you're a big bulging bag of hormones!

When my daughter was born in May 2007, all of a sudden my priorities changed and it was thanks to my maternity cover that this happened. My daughter was born 3 days before the GCSE Music final exam, and I had told my replacement that I would go into school that day to talk through everything with the students unless I was in labour. I stayed in hospital overnight and checked my emails when I got home the next day, to find a message entitled 'Congratulations and Lesson Plan.' The message itself read: 'Congratulations on your little girl. I'm presuming this means you won't be coming in for Lesson 3 as planned, so could you please forward me a lesson plan for Year 11?' This message was truthfully sent while I was still in the birthing pool, not even any sign of a placenta yet! From that point on, I had my beautiful little girl to look after and the thought of having to leave her and go back to work was the scariest prospect in the world. Three months very quickly became the entire year I was allowed to take, and I returned already pregnant with my son.

I was prompted to write this post for Holly's working mum's carnival over at It's a Mummy's Life and as soon as I read about it I knew I wanted to contribute. For me, it was never a serious option that I would leave work completely. I happen to have got married and bought my first house about three years too late for this to be viable. My decision to go back to work wasn't purely financial, although this was a big part of it. We could afford it, just, but there would be no money left over for anything else, no treats, and I feel very strongly that everyone deserves those.

I know a lot of parents, my own mother included would argue that this doesn't matter, as long as you are there to see your children grow up, that time costs nothing etc. I don't think I'm ready to go back to work full time yet, and maybe if I'd hated my job things would be different, but I love working three days every week. Here's why:

  • I still get to spend the majority of my time with the children on a weekly basis and get 13 weeks holiday a year too
  • We can afford to provide our children with everything they need, when they need it
  • We can afford to treat ourselves
  • We can have a family holiday every year without getting into debt which the kids love
  • The children go to nursery and pre school and really do benefit from the contact with other children, and learn values they couldn't fully appreciate if they were at home with me the whole time
  • From a selfish point of view I get to eat lunch three days a week with people who don't also attempt to eat their own poo, and if I need a wee, noone follows me into the cubicle, jewellery I wear generally stays put for the whole day and my clothes remain the colour they begin when I put them on in the morning!
  • As a result of the above point, my patience has generally been restored from going to work, meaning that I am able to enjoy my four days with the children, doing fun things that only toddlers can dream up!
  • Working three days will hopefully keep me up to date with developments in education so that I am still employable if I decide I would like to go back to work full time

So ultimately, do I feel guilty being a working mum? Yes, but it is a selfish guilt which I think any parent feels, whether they work full time or are just asking someone else to look after their child for 20 minutes so they can pop to the shops. I would also feel guilty if I didn't go to work and wasn't able to buy that special toy that one of the children had been yearning after for ages, or if they couldn't go on that day out with their friends because we'd had to get rid of our second car. It really is no win once you have children. Everyone has their own opinions about what is right and wrong, and just like everything else in life, we will never have everyone in agreement, so we just have to go with what we think is right for us. Ultimately, my children are happy, they are well rounded, they are cared for 24/7 and Mummy and Daddy are still their best friends. I love my job, but my children and my family are my life. I'm lucky I get to enjoy both, and it's only one week til half term when we all get to spend the whole week together!


  1. It sounds like, like me you have got what is best for you!

  2. My sister also teaches 3 days a week, and my parents were teachers too. I think its a tough job to do as a mum, because it is so emotionally demaning, but your situation does sound like the best of both worlds.
    Another plus is that your students, other peoples kids, get to have you as their teacher. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold!

  3. You are lucky to have a job you love so much! You shouldn't feel guilty for that.
    I only hope my children are lucky enough to have a teacher as dedicated to her profession as you when they go to school. x