“Two Below Two” + One More!

With every subsequent child, Niki Kaiser (@chemDrK), secondary Chemistry teacher and mother of three, tells of how her skills and subject knowledge developed and career opportunities grew, and how creative part time solutions supported her leadership journey.

My maternity leave worked to my advantage as I am now working as a Research Lead, a role I would never have even known about, let alone gain the skills for, if I hadn’t had the time I had at home to learn and develop outside of the classroom.

Several factors, however, worked in my favour whilst I was on leave, that might not be the case for other teachers.  Firstly, my schools and colleagues were always very supportive of my requests for flexible working.  Last year, I job-shared a Head of Subject role, for example.  Secondly, my home situation meant that I could afford to work part time when I returned to the classroom.

Before I went on my first maternity leave, I had all sorts of ideas about how I’d spend the time I’d have.  I imagined months of sitting, bored, at home, while my baby slept in the corner of the room.  I planned to write a paper that I’d had on hold from my post-doc prior to training as a teacher, and to spend lots of time playing the flute and piano.

Then, my first child was born and I was absolutely knocked sideways.  He never slept; I struggled to breastfeed; I found everything incredibly difficult to cope with.  I was lucky that I never suffered from PND… but I wasn’t happy!

I went back to work when my son was six months old, and teaching was mostly about surviving days after having little sleep, and getting through to the end of each half term in one piece.

Yet somehow, baby number two was born just 20 months after my first child!  I’d only been back at work for a term and I was already pregnant again.  Whilst I would never complain about this (I have been very close to people who haven’t been so lucky), I felt a tremendous amount of guilt towards my lovely Head of Department and my colleagues, who I felt I would be letting down.  I also began to worry that, as my first pregnancy had begun during my NQT year, I would lose any skills I’d gained over my short time teaching.

Having “two under two” was full on.  I coped a lot better this time with the lack of sleep, and the breastfeeding happened very easily this time, but despite the exhaustion, I began to crave chances to really use my brain in ways that weren’t connected to my gorgeous children.  I began to ‘talk’ to people online on parenting sites, and to read science articles via Twitter.

Baby number three came along when Baby 1 was just starting school.  Life was very busy: one child at school, one child at home, one newborn baby, but I had begun to use Twitter more and more to talk to fellow educators.  One of these was Prof. Simon Lancaster at UEA.  He sparked an interest in my for flipped learning, and I made a few screencasts using a trial version of Camtasia to use the next year when I was teaching.  I had some direct tips from Simon (e.g. optimum length for a screencast and how to cut of the ‘fluff’), and you can hear my baby in the background of some of the screencasts, which I still use with my students today!

This time to reflect, research and make contacts was invaluable.  I returned to work with new-found confidence, and a definite idea of the direction I wanted to move in, career-wise.

Last year, I job-shared a Head of Chemistry position, and put many of these ideas directly into practice.  For example, I ran a Science Journal Club for students, and helped students practise for the RSC Chemistry Olympiad competition.  This year, I am working as a Research Lead within the school, and I have been involved with putting together a reformed CPD programme for staff.  I also recently started a school blog site to collect T&L ideas from colleagues.

I had already been adding blog articles to the school bulletin for a couple of years now, and I had started a Journal Club for colleagues (now a Reading Group), but I wouldn’t have known there was even such a thing as a Research Lead before I started to see what other people were doing via Twitter and Edu-blogs.  The time spent interacting with people during (and then after) my maternity leave was truly transformational.  Seeing what other people were doing gave me the confidence to see the Head and ask him to create the role for me.

None of this would have been possible without the reading and online networking that began whilst I was on maternity leave.  Perhaps I would have done it anyway, but I would say that precious time at home with my children certainly didn’t hold me back.