Tracey-Ann Peynado (@ann4tracey), describes how three maternity leaves provided her with the opportunity to reflect on her career, develop her subject, pedagogical and leadership knowledge in order to prepare for new career opportunities.
*Update: since contributing this case study, Tracey-Ann has been promoted to Assistant Head of Teaching and Learning and CPD!
Maternity leave has always been a great time to make a change in my career and further my professional development. Having time away from the daily demands of the job gave me time to think, read and reflect on my practice as well as my goals for the future.
When I became pregnant with my first son in 2015, I was the Subject Coordinator for PSHE and Citizenship which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, I knew my passion was for teaching Psychology. As my degree was in Law and not Psychology it was hit and miss each year as to whether I would get any Psychology lessons on my timetable. So, whilst on my first maternity leave, I decided that this would be
a good time gain a higher education qualification in Psychology. I studied part-time online whilst my son napped. Initially I had only planned to get a post graduate certificate but the more I studied the more I wanted to learn, and in the end, I gained my second degree in Psychology. I was advised by my university to go all the way and get the MSc. So, when I went on maternity leave for the second time, I went back to studying part-time.
Whilst studying I changed schools and began working full-time teaching the subject I am passionate about, Psychology. Juggling the pressures of working full-time in a new school with two small children whilst studying for a masters is indescribable. I’m still not quite sure how I did it and kept my sanity! But I loved my school, I felt valued and I enjoyed what I was doing.
Fast forward to 2019 and the arrival of my daughter, baby number three. I was very happy with my position in school and had been given some great CPD opportunities, so my only goal whilst on leave was to keep abreast of current research in pedagogy. I had never really been one to engage with social media but many of my teacher friends had told me how useful they found Twitter for connecting with others in the profession. I had a Twitter account which hadn’t been looked for at least three years! So, whilst spending endless hours on the sofa breastfeeding and having watched enough Netflix to feel completely saturated I decided to see what this ‘edutwitter’ was all about.
Connecting with colleagues in the profession via Twitter has been revolutionary. I was amazed at how willing people where to offer help, advice and support. There where so many recommendations of people to follow, websites to engage with and books to read that I couldn’t keep up. Suddenly I had a wealth of journals, articles and books to read that satisfied my need to keep mentally active and gain ideas on how to improve my practice.
Connecting with WomenEd and The MTPT Project got me thinking about my long-term goals and ambitions for my career. I had no plans to leave my current school but quickly realised that it would not long before I would want my next challenge. Following advice from a MTPT case study I made sure to keep up to date with what was happening in school in my absence by checking and clearing my e-mails once a fortnight and reading the staff newsletter.
When the NQT Coordinating Mentor role came up in the newsletter I knew that I wanted the position. However, as I was still on maternity leave, I went back and forth about it so many times in my head. I came up with every reason why I shouldn’t apply but after a stern pep talk from my husband who was probably bored to tears of hearing about it, I bit the bullet and put in an application.
I was very nervous writing and sending in my application. I questioned whether I would be taken seriously and worried about what other colleagues would think. I feared being judged for thinking about my career when all my focus should be on my new baby. However, with the encouragement of my husband and family members I decided to ignore the voices of self-doubt and go for it. I felt content in the fact that even if I didn’t get the position, the interview process would be a valuable learning experience.
To my surprise, the fact that I was on maternity leave was never mentioned in the interview process. In fact, I was the one to bring it up at the end of the interview as I was conscious of the fact that they might need someone to start the role immediately. I was reassured that being on leave would hold no bearing on my suitability for the role and that it was not even a consideration for them.
I left the interview feeling totally elated. I felt proud that I had been brave enough to apply and confident that all the reading I had been doing meant that I gave a strong performance in the interview. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and felt content that even if I didn’t get the position, I had had a valuable learning experience and that being on leave would not disadvantage me in any way. So, you can imagine how happy I was to receive the phone call offering me the position!
I am now using my KIT days to dip into school, get familiar with my new role and get things ready for when I return to work.
My advice to anyone taking parental leave is to first and foremost enjoy the time you have with your little one as that time comes to an end all too quickly. Secondly, connect with others in education whether it is through media such as Twitter or by going to visit colleagues in other schools. Thirdly, spend time reading up on your subject and pedagogy to keep your skills sharp and confidence levels high as returning to the classroom after an extended period away can feel very daunting. And finally, be courageous, take the risks we encourage our students to take and apply for that position!