Wellbeing: the Key to Sustainable Teaching

Charlotte Hobbs (@Lottefran), a Lincolnshire-based English teacher is preparing to return to work full time after maternity leave with her daughter.  She reflects on how spending time developing her understanding of her own wellbeing whilst out of the classroom may have the most significant impact on her teaching and learning.

I went back to work after Christmas for one and half weeks of complete chaos and work overload. I don’t think I’ve ever been so productive in my entire teaching career! Those weeks were spent conducting the handover with my maternity cover; writing a class set and tutor set of reports; marking and offering feedback on Year 11 mock exams; clearing my desk and classroom; a parents’ evening and, I’m fairly sure, there was some teaching in there too. I needed to keep busy because I was approaching my maternity leave with dread. I am absolutely awful at shutting off from work. For me, as for many people I know, teaching is not just a career and it can take over your life. I left in the middle of January and found myself at a loose end. I couldn’t help but check my school email and keep informed on my students.

Our baby was born a month later and has been a star: eats, sleeps (albeit connected to a person for the first few months), and is healthy. We’re very blessed. Even so, I missed work. I found myself envious of my partner, who is also a teacher, being able to go to work every day. I very quickly became fed up of every conversation which seemed to reclassify me as just a mother and I definitely felt myself losing my identity, rather than feeling it expand to incorporate the role of mother. It was about this time that I discovered The

MTPT Project and finally felt some connection with other parents who were balancing parenthood and parental leave while still maintaining a positive connection with their career.

After finding this, I decided to use my maternity leave to focus on my own wellbeing. I participated in #30dayswild for June and to enter my blog for their blogging competition. This forced me to go outside and engage with nature, and to blog, every day of June. It was fantastic to feel a part of something again. (And the garden looks amazing now!)

Additionally, I have loved using the time when the baby is asleep on my shoulder to read. As an English teacher, I am constantly promoting the value of reading and so it was glorious to have the time to practise what I preach and get my own reading habits back on track. Regularly reading has been an absolute lifesaver over the past few months, and I feel I’ve massively expanded my literary knowledge, which I will share with my students.

Being away from the day-to-day of teaching has also allowed me to gain more perspective. I will be returning to work with a very different approach. I have had the time (and access to a range of ideas – thanks Twitter) to think more carefully about the activities and resources I’ll use with my classes, and to design some whole-school projects. Mostly, however, I think I’ve gained a greater understanding of the importance of wellbeing. I am returning to work full-time, but with very clear boundaries. I have set a time of day (1 hour after the end of school) by which I will stop working, collect the baby from nursery and all of our home time will be for us. I have realised that I have ambitions to play a greater role in school, and I think the promotion of staff wellbeing/pastoral care is the route I want to take.

I never saw having a baby as a ‘break’ from education. In fact, I was terrified to leave work. However, it has a been such a valuable opportunity: we have a wonderful daughter, and I have renewed energy and a redesigned approach to work which incorporates my love for my job and my new role as a parent.