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Focus and Clarity from the Sidelines

Now back in the classroom, English AST and Assistant Head Teacher, Carly Moran () tells us about how the personal and professional development she undertook whilst on maternity leave with her first son has improved her teaching and leadership. This post originally featured on her own blog,

Maybe I should be embarrassed to say this, but I was ready for the rest. I had been teaching in central London for 11 years and I needed to get off the treadmill. Maternity leave seemed like it might give me the head space I needed (I didn’t have a baby to get headspace but there were two silver linings here!)  And it did.

Now if you have children, especially if you were the one who took the parental leave, you will know just how hard it is. Working is easier. By far. But not as valuable. Someone has to do it and we decided it would be me (biology decided lots of it…). Being pregnant, I worried that people would write me off at worst, or at best, leave me out, subconsciously reasoning that ‘she’ll be gone soon anyway’. This did not happen. At all. Partly because I made sure it didn’t, and although tired I was very lucky (minimal sickness, no

complications). As all new mums on maternity leave say, the stay at home days dragged but the months flew.  Social media kept me in touch with the other world: checking twitter during 3am feeds, reading blogs when he slept on me during the day; I was too cautious to move, fearful I might wake him and loose those precious 25 minutes peace (he only slept for 25 minutes at a time for 6 months). I also read a few education books but weirdly, didn’t check any emails.

I returned to work petrified feeling like the only person who has ever had to leave their baby and even with other parents telling you ‘it gets easier’, you can’t believe it. Perhaps some mothers were burning to get back to work. I don’t know a single one. I can however testify that it is not as hard as you think it will be but you need a village, as the saying goes: good childcare, flexible family, an understanding workplace and Instagram (so you can see trendy mums who return to trendy jobs in trendy clothes but nonetheless suffer the same ‘I want my career!’ but ‘I miss the smell of my baby’s head! Is he eating enough?’ guilt. We’re in it together.)

I found that I returned to work with more clarity, more focus and more strength then I had ever had. The latter must be a by-product of being through the bittersweet experience of maternity leave and survived. The focus and clarity came because I took a step out and observed education from the sidelines. Everyone has an idea, an initiative, a technique, a belief. We are all so rushed, so responsive, lacking in strategy because time does not always allow it, over compensating for poor systems with far too many sticky plasters. Being outside of this allowed me to see this myriad of mess. I concluded two things:

I don’t know how teachers do it. When you’re in it, you do it, but when you look at it, wow… What amazing super humans they are. So let’s stop the burn out. Stop giving them timewasting CPD (can I just have the time to write that SoW please?) and stop passing down your cherry picked pedagogical wisdom because you saw it in a nice school once and tell your staff what the research says works and just do that.

Get behaviour right. I see the conflicting philosophies on behaviour all day every day on Twitter (‘oppressed? No, orderly and respectful. Working class kids need middle class boundaries! No, they should feel free and valued thinkers.’ Oversimplified but you know what I mean). I read about a lot of different behaviour management systems, Ofsted’s verdicts etc. I came to the conclusion that teachers and schools (systems, processes, attitudes) do too much to compensate for not getting behaviour right in the first place. Maybe I’m naïve but if every child were taught the rigour of behaving in a lesson, every pupil (well most) would fulfill their potential, because the teacher would never be prevented from teaching. Just don’t ask me how to get there – I’m one of the SLT Tom Bennet refers to here (but am trying).  I’m also totally convinced on whole school centralised detentions now.

My husband and I both think being parents has made us wiser teachers. Don’t mis-read me, I’m not undervaluing non parent teachers (I was one for 11 years and I think I was pretty good), I just feel it has given me a different perspective.

There are definitely down sides to being a mother and having a career. I was warned about this by other mothers (who had come through it and were truly out on the other side). Unconscious bias is unfortunately a big part of it, and although the government may think they are dealing with gender pay gap etc., they haven’t got a clue in my opinion. But as much I want to, I shan’t digress for now, this is about focus after all.

I never had a gap year, I don’t come from that kind of culture, nor have I worked long enough to feel I warrant a sabbatical. Maternity leave, nor motherhood are a holiday (I have holidayed with a baby, I am scarred for at least the next 5 years) but time away has given me a focus. Twice a week I do have to leave at 4pm to pick him up (babies won’t wait for me to finish marking these last 5 books) and I do have to manage my work and life differently, but I genuinely think I am of more value to my school than I ever have been. I hope they feel the same.