Easing Back Into Gear

Science Teacher and father of two, Paul Hunter (@MrHBio26), describes how taking shared parental leave enabled him to enjoy time with his new daughter and develop his subject knowledge and educational networks.

When our first daughter was born in 2013, I was a senior postdoctoral research scientist on a fixed term contract at a top ranking university. Taking anything more than the standard two weeks paternity leave was unheard of – in fact, taking the full two weeks was considered pushing it.  Like many others, going back to work so soon after the birth was tough on both my wife and I for all the usual reasons of guilt and feeling like I was abandoning them.

So, when our second daughter came along 8 years later, and the opportunity arose to share parental leave, we jumped at the chance. At this point I should say that I had made the leap to change career into teaching as a secondary science teacher in 2017 when our eldest started school. Shared parental leave was something we’d discussed at length and was something we both passionately believe in. I won’t get started on equality in the workplace here – that’s for another blog! For us, it made perfect sense both financially, but more importantly, personally. My wife was keen to go back to her work as a partner in a law firm and I was keen to experience what she had done eight years earlier.

 The first few days of flying solo with the baby felt very similar to my first few lessons as a trainee teacher. Terrifying! Thankfully, the blind panic of imposter syndrome and nervousness gradually gave way, and I loved having the opportunity that I know so many Dads miss out on for so many reasons.

It was towards the end of my seven month leave that I started to think about CPD. I’ve always been a planner, so I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could for returning to the classroom. Having never worked part time before, going down to 0.6 was something else for me to get my head around.

After doing some online research, I signed up to an MTPT Project workshop for parents returning to work. I found it really useful to share worries and ideas with other parents (admittedly all mothers, but having spent seven months at baby classes, I was used to this!) about the return to teaching. In another session Emma and Chris shared great tips on flexible working and ideas to achieve the elusive work/life balance.

Prior to my leave, I had great ambitions that I would have lots of time to improve my pedagogy, create wonderful resources and get ahead with planning. Obviously, this turned out to be ridiculously optimistic, but I did find some small wins to ease my brain back into some form of gear. One of my favourite parts of my leave were my daily walks with the baby at nap time. I love a podcast, and I found occasionally replacing my usual trashy, true crime podcasts with a subject specific one or a pedagogy related one was a great way to keep up with the subject I love and calmed some of my fears about going back unprepared.

The late night feeds were a great time for exploring some of the fantastic ideas and resources on twitter. So, although I didn’t find the time to make my own, magpie-ing others felt like a happy alternative. There’s far too many to mention, but the @chatbiology community and the amazing resources from @gjheducation have really helped me.

Finally, my biggest tip would be to try and use at least one KIT day in school if you can get the childcare to allow it. Going in and seeing colleagues was lovely. Having a hot cup of coffee and a chat with adults is nice, seeing some students and getting some sort of work done really helped me to visualise how things would be when the big return to work came round – it’s sooner than you think!

I always knew that going back would be a juggling act. The nursery drop offs and school pick ups mean that I can’t just hang around chatting or marking after school like I used to. For me, this is a positive and it’s forcing me to be more productive in a timely manner. I have high hopes that this year, I will craft a marking timetable that works for me and my students. I’m well aware that the work/life balance is still a work in progress, but having a small one to keep me on my toes is a lot of fun, and having the job I love too makes me feel very lucky!