“Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following—her womb then rich with my young squire—” – Titania, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I was due to start my maternity leave in mid-Jan. I have had TES job notifications for Assistant Head posts in London coming into my inbox since last April (and still do – I can’t work out how to switch them off…) Early Jan, I noticed an advert for ‘Assistant Head – Teaching and Learning’ at my good friend Rachel’s school. My dream job and a lovely school by the sound of things, but alas, not quite the right time, I thought. A week later, Rachel mentioned the advert to me:
“Did you see my school is advertising for an Assistant Head?”
“Yes I did…”
“I think you’d be really good for it! You’ve got exactly the experience they’re looking for.”
“Gosh, now? But… hmm…” The little flame inside me that gets excited by new things lit up. The cogs started turning. Could I make this work?
I never would have considered applying if it wasn’t for Rachel: firstly, she regularly sang the praises of the school and the leadership team. She had started there the previous May and the Headteacher was personable and attentive, checking in with her every day of her first week to see how she was getting on. Though ‘just’ a normal classroom teacher, she had already been given opportunities to lead initiatives, lead CPD, start clubs, and empower student leadership too, which seemed an important priority of the school. Secondly, she encouraged me to apply, believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and coached me through the whole process. This taught me two things: from a school perspective, those little personal touches can go a long way, and showing your staff you value them in all sorts of ways can have surprising results (recruiting their friends). For an individual, it is so valuable to have cheerleaders who will support you to achieve more than you thought possible.
I phoned my mum, guru of all things, and babbled down the phone to her about this job and this school and this opportunity. Should I apply? Would I be mad?
“Yes, you’d be a bit mad, but yes, you should apply,” was her sage advice.
So the very next day I phoned the school and asked to come and visit the following week (I’d be on maternity leave by then, first bonus of doing this while off work).
“Oh we’ve had a lot of interest,” said the lovely PA, “I’m not sure if the Head has any time left.”
“Oh just five minutes would be fine; students could show me round,” I pleaded.
“Okay we’ll see if he can squeeze you in on Tuesday morning.”
Tuesday morning came round and I donned the only smart clothes I could fit into at my 8-and-a-half months pregnant size, a long navy maternity dress from ASOS and beige jacket (what is this now, a fashion blog?). If the Head was surprised to see my size, he didn’t give anything away. He shook my hand and invited me into his office, where he proceeded to spend not five minutes but at least half an hour talking to me about the post, the school and answering all my many questions. A good first impression! He then spent a further HOUR (no exaggeration) taking me on a slow tour of the school’s lovely shiny new building, including letting me briefly see every single teacher teach.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
I saw every. Single. Teacher. Teach.
I had not even applied for the post yet, and was one of many potential candidates. Wow.
At the end of my visit, the head said:
“Obviously this doesn’t change anything, but I can’t help noticing your condition. Can I ask what your plans are?”
“I’m due in February and I plan to return to work in September” I replied quickly. And that was that.
I filled in my application that afternoon and was invited for interview a couple of days after applications closed. For the interview, I had to prepare a lesson, a presentation, and be ready for a student panel, teacher panel, book check, and observation and feedback with another teacher. If successful at this hurdle, I would be invited back for the actual interview the next day.
I spent the best part of a day planning the lesson and the presentation – benefit number two of being on leave. It would have been difficult to find the time had I been in the middle of a busy teaching week.
The day went well, I enjoyed it (which is important) and the students were charming. I wore the same clothes as last week’s visit. I don’t think my very obvious pregnancy was mentioned once, though I did have a bit of a tricky moment where I needed the loo right before my lesson! The Head of English said it to worry and the kids could wait, which they did, very calmly. I also made sure to snack almost religiously and made full use of the pastries and tea on offer, so kept my energy up throughout the day.
I was thrilled to get a call later that afternoon inviting me to the formal interview the following day.
“Just out of interest, how many candidates are coming back tomorrow?” I asked.
“How many? Oh it’s just you.”
Right! So it’s really on me not to mess it up then – a real possibility as I had previously interviewed for roles where no one was appointed. I started frantically preparing for the next day’s presentation. Good thing I didn’t have to set cover too! Again, my cheerleader Rachel helped to ‘psych me up’ by reassuring me I was totally up to this and must believe in myself and I would be great!
You’ve probably already guessed the end of this story. The interview was with the chair of governors, head teacher and deputy head. They started by asking with genuine concern how I was doing and if I had found yesterday tiring. I felt out of my depth on some SLT questions and right in my comfort zone with the teaching and learning ones. At the end of the interview, when they asked if I had any questions, I decided to tell them, in the spirit of openness, our family plans – I would return to work in September and my husband would take parental leave, so I would be able to fully commit to the job.
I went to visit a friend with a baby afterwards to unwind and get back in baby zone, and while there got the phone call saying they’d like to offer me the job! Happy days!
So back to the title of this blog: why parental leave is a great time to apply for a new job. Well, as I already mentioned, it allowed me to visit the school before applying which I would not ordinarily do; spend more time preparing my application; and not have to worry about missing lessons or cover. It’s given me a renewed sense of focus for any CPD I choose to do whilst on leave. It also means that going forward I can spend a few days or half days in the summer term getting ready for the role; I hope to bring baby with me for these meetings.
I am really excited about going back to work as I will be starting something new. A lawyer I met at the ‘Leaders with Babies’ event said she wished she had something new to go to – when she visits the office now it seems so boring and samey, while her life has moved on so much…
This experience has really highlighted to me the potential that returning parents have to take on new challenges at work and the motivation that can bring. Employers should never assume that parents will definitely want to do less or take a step back, even if they choose to return part time.
I realise that I was able to apply for this job before actually giving birth, but once baby is a few months old or whenever a parent feels ready, this sort of thing would still be possible if you have a bit of child care worked out. I know of a deputy head who got both of her SLT promotions while on maternity leave and post-birth. If you are thinking about applying for something in this position, I would be more than happy to have a chat – get in touch in the comments below or on twitter – @maternityCPD #MTPTproject