The Confidence to Return

Hafsah Ahmed (@h__ahmed), 2iC in English and mother of two explains how she used the end of her first maternity leave to improve her KS5 subject knowledge through school visits made possible by her time out of the classroom.

My maternity leave came 6 months after starting at a new school in February 2016 (Wow, that seems like a really long time ago!) I had just completed my two years of training via Teach First and although this was my third year in the classroom, it was the first year I was no longer in training. I loved the new school, I loved the much shorter commute, I loved the autonomy I was given by my Head of Department. But quite honestly, once that leaving date got closer and the reality of leaving for a whole year dawned on me, I was relieved.

For the six months that I had been teaching A-Level and coordinating it’s delivery within my department, I felt a massive sense of imposter syndrome. This was my first KS5 class that I had sole charge of and while I loved the intellectual challenge and rigour of KS5, I always worried I wasn’t good enough, simply owing to my lack of experience. 

Maternity leave for me meant I would no longer spend hours combing through JSTOR journals reading critical literature just so that I would feel sufficiently confident to teach my year 12 group: it meant a break.

You can be sure that once my daughter was born, school didn’t cross my mind. In fact, it felt like a distant past. I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into motherhood.  I embraced my new reality and was very lucky to be so well supported by my family which helped to enjoy this time as much as I could.

I had decided to take a year of maternity leave and in my mind that felt like a really long time, but it flew past. As my return date came closer, I felt a sense of dread and immediately knew this was something I needed to remedy if I was going to enjoy the final two months before returning to school. I reached out to a friend who worked at a highly successful 6th form college and asked if I could come in for a couple of days and visit the English department. Those two days spent there did wonders for my return to work on so many levels. It was the first time I was going to be leaving my daughter with anyone for a whole day at a time and I remember the feeling of handing her over to my mum, walking out of the door in work clothes (which I hadn’t worn for months), getting on the train and suddenly feeling like I had left something behind. This slowly turned into a sense of real liberation and I marvelled at how I had the complete use of two hands, no buggy, no baby, no nothing.

During my two days at the sixth form college, I had the opportunity to observe high quality KS5 English lessons, meet with other experienced KS5 practitioners who so generously shared their resources with me, sit with the head of English who gave up her time to discuss strategies for effective long term planning and I even managed to get in on a bit of team teaching and get some informal feedback.

It may sound like not much, two days in a school that’s not your own, so what? But those two days gave me the confidence to return to school feeling like I was in control. I had used my visit as a springboard to plan in a way I hadn’t done before, teach with strategies that had proven to be effective, and with the reassurance that I had nothing to worry about. I learned that I could handle the chaos of drop off in the morning and the commute to work again, that I could still stand in front of a room of students and make an impact. That I belonged in that classroom.

The best thing I learned from it though? When you get home from a day of work, there’s just nothing quite like the greeting of your little one who has missed you all day to make you feel like you are absolutely worth it.