Mother of three, Catherine Brown (@catmaybrown), reflects on the opportunities for teaching, learning and professional development that her maternity leave offered, as well as how she fit different forms of CPD around babies with varying characters and used her learning when she returned to the classroom.
Before commencing my first maternity leave in December 2011, I felt excited and extremely fortunate. Not only was I about to meet our first child, but I was also looking forward to a ‘Baby Break’. Teaching is an all-encompassing career. I had given it my everything for seven years and taken on a variety of different positions of responsibility. I was eager to have some time out to gain head-space, reflect and do some of the things that simply can’t fit in when you’re teaching full-time, planning and marking every evening and weekend.
I began my maternity leave a few weeks earlier than necessary and completed a TEFL course; this was something I’d longed to do for ages and something I knew would be useful in the school that I was working in and beyond. It energised me. I felt slightly frustrated that I was unable to try out some of what I’d learned right away! But with Christmas and the arrival of our first daughter I soon got swept up in all things baby.
After the initial whirlwind, and the realisation that I was exceptionally fortunate to have an ‘easy’ baby who slept well (don’t worry, I’ve definitely had payback since!), I had a need to keep my brain stimulated. I completed a module for my Masters’; I read books I’d been meaning to read for years; I did some proofreading and copy-writing for an ex-colleague and friend from my old magazine publishers. It all felt empowering: I still had an identity outside of being a mum. I also merged the two and came up with ideas and wrote features for a baby magazine app.
After seven months, I returned to work full-time for the last month before the summer holidays and it was more challenging than I had expected it to be. Things had changed and moved on. I no longer knew my role or position. However I was not alone. I was suddenly part of this ‘Parent-Teacher Club’ that I previously hadn’t known existed. I was working in a school where more than a third of the teachers had taken maternity leave in the past three years and this led to a lot of comparison. It became clear that we had all had totally different experiences, thoughts and feelings associated with our return to work. I decided to research this further and more formally.
At the start of my second maternity leave in October 2013, I wrote my dissertation for my Masters’ in Education: “Experiences of Teachers Returning to Work After Maternity Leave in an Inner-city Secondary School”. I had conducted most of the research, questionnaires and interviews during the previous year, but I wrote up the bulk of the 20,000 words and submitted my first draft 10 days before having our second daughter. I was then required to make amendments and submit the final draft just four weeks after having a Caesarean section. I remember being sat typing away, while rocking the bouncer with one foot or breastfeeding with the other arm. Fortunately she slept a lot in those early weeks (in the day, at least!). It also helped that I was writing about something I felt passionate about, that was still so relevant to me. Plus I think the endorphins and adrenaline may have been taking the edge off the sleep deprivation at that early stage!
The end of my dissertation offered a support plan of how schools could re-integrate teachers after maternity leave, in order to help them feel valued and secure in their role. I was amazed that if someone is off with stress or an illness for more than two weeks there was a set Return To Work procedure, yet nothing was in place for maternity leave where people can have up to a year off work. A year after I had passed my dissertation (with Merit!) the new Principal of my school and the HR department changed the maternity policy and integrated many of my suggestions.
I am currently on my third (and final!) maternity leave and now working at a different school. I am learning about Twitter and blogging as a means for CPD and have enrolled on a Children’s Story Writing course, but am yet to really get going with it.
My third child is not quite just ‘fitting in’ as people promised me she would! She isn’t sleeping much, day or night, and I am a bit of a walking zombie. Furthermore, having a three year old and a five year old means I do not have as much ‘disposable time’ as I did before. I am fortunate to have exceptionally supportive parents and in-laws, so I am confident that I will complete the course before returning to work.
Additionally, my eldest started school in September, and I have been volunteering in her class one morning a week. I have mainly been helping with extra reading with students who are not making expected progress or PP children. I have also assisted with Forest School. These have been invaluable experiences. I have seen first-hand how reading and writing is taught; learned all about phonics and the introduction of numeracy skills; and been a part of enriching, extra-curricular opportunities. Being in a primary school classroom is hugely different to secondary school and it has given me so much to take back when I return to work in a few months.
Having your own children is tough and a constant rollercoaster of emotions. Keeping my mind enriched, fulfilled and active has helped me gain perspective on my day-to-day life, both in the classroom and at home. I feel privileged to have had this time.