I love the act of teaching, of sharing my knowledge with students and watching for the aha! moment. I chose to retrain as a teacher not for the money. I had a passion for science and maths and I wished to spend my days sharing that with the next generations.
I also believed that teaching was one of the few professions that was “family friendly”. I was wrong. So very wrong.
Last October my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family. As a full-time permanent employee I was given 14 weeks paid maternity leave. So far, so good.
I also took another four weeks unpaid so as to work around the flow of school terms. Nothing unusual here.
When March rolled around I started to think about getting ready to head back to work and what I could do to make the transition as smooth as possible.
This is where the “fun” began.
As an educator, we do a lot of additional work outside of our contracted hours. According to my contract of employment my official hours are seven hours each day, five days a week. Yeah, right!
To be a good teacher, you need to be organised. You need to know what topics students are learning. You need to know who your students are, what special adjustments and support might be required due to social, emotional, physical and/or cultural influences of the 30+ kids in each of your 6 classes. You need to have extension ideas in mind for students who race ahead and a dozen different ways to explain the one concept as students, like all people, learn differently.
Likewise, returning to work in the middle of a school year, you will also have parents upset at the disruption to their child’s timetable. And you’ll have students who might take a while to re-adjust to someone new.
Listen: Rebecca Judd shares her maternity leave plan, including what worked and what didn't, on our pregnancy podcast Hello Bump. Post continues after audio.
That’s not even mentioning the unit plans, the lesson plans, the mountain of emails with highly important information regarding changes that have been made to the way the school runs in your absence, technology upgrades, rules and regulations, curriculum and professional development missed and even more administration mandated.
So you’d think with all this would best be aided by a thorough handover upon your return. Nope!
Instead you’re expected to have stayed on top of emails in between nappy changes. You’re expected to spend your last few weeks of your precious, unpaid maternity leave coming in to have handover meetings. You’re expected to write unit plans and lesson plans and compliance documents before returning to work.
You’re expected to attend parent teacher night your third day back at work. I haven’t taught these kids yet, I don’t know your child’s name. Excuse me if I’m freaking out because I have yet to figure out how to put my baby to sleep without breastfeeding him a half dozen times between the hours of 6 and 8pm and this won’t finish till after 8pm, so I will have an agitated tiny human, an agitated husband and an emotionally drained mother by the time I get home.
As a teacher you are made to feel an inconvenience and a hassle for requesting part-time return. And if you are granted one, you are expected to either leave lessons for the days you’re not at work or you end up doing administration work in your day off. So it’s the same amount of work for less pay.
In a profession where child protection is key, how is it the school does not have a permanent private breastfeeding and expressing facility? I do not wish to whip my boobs out to pump in view of a student. Could you imagine the outrage from parents and the issues with students? It would only take one to decide to whip a phone out and take a photo, and then what?
Instead you get a chair in a tiny storeroom, because that’s the only room on campus without giant windows. Just you and the filing cabinets. Closest sinking is down a floor and the closest fridge is in another staff room.
In an industry dominated by women, this is what we get?
When I was in the engineering profession, an industry with a shocking gender balance, the conditions of maternity leave and returning to work were a darn site better.
How is this possible? How is this acceptable?
No wonder so many of us leave the profession we love.