Somehow, I feel as though I have travelled back a decade – with a salary to match

Having children has brought so much to my life. Yes, of course, I pang for a lie-in or a week in an adults’ only hotel, sipping cocktails in the sun, but now I have children, I am complete. Sounds cliché, I know. But it is true. Motherhood is incredible. My husband and I are discovering the world again, seeing it through the eyes of these perfect little beings.

Abandoned by my father and brought up by an emotionally abusive mother, I never, even for a second, underestimate the role of a parent. I want to give it all I have. I want to fill my babies with love, and give them that anchor inside. The one that I know I am missing. The one that says, ‘you are loved. You are safe. You are worthy.’

For the last 11 years, I have been the head of a core department in a secondary school. Post-degree, I went back to university for a year to gain my certificate in education. The costs of becoming a teacher should not be sniffed at. I dread to think what I still owe on my student loan; It will probably outlive me and be passed through the generations.

I have given everything to the profession. Community events. School trips. Parents’ evenings. Staff meetings. Residentials. Data folders. Presentations. Ofsted grillings. Parents’ events. Trips abroad. Enthusing. Motivating. Reprimanding. Inspiring. Four lessons a day. 30 children in each class. You do the maths. Although it is incredibly challenging, teaching is a wonderful career. I have worked with some fantastic young people and their families. Our future leaders, thinkers, makers and shifters. You teach because you love it. Us teachers often spend more time with other people’s children than our own. Teaching is a vocation, and one I love. Well, loved.

Ofsted loved me. My practices were shared across other schools. And my head teacher verbally asked me to join the leadership team numerous times.

After my first child, I began to realise just how difficult it was balancing motherhood and working full-time as a middle leader. Being in charge of a subject which is heavily scrutinised is tough. Doing it after a sleepless, vomit filled night with my two-year-old proved tougher still. As a mother, I could no longer spend my Sundays marking and planning on the kitchen table. Again, my weeknight work could only commence post-put-down, so I was often starting work at 9pm and finishing after midnight. But I did not let this stop me; I gave the role every ounce of energy I could muster.

When I fell pregnant for the second time, I could feel everything changing. I was in and out of hospital, so colleagues at work began to ignore me, and leave me out of the decision making process. During my second maternity leave, I heard from a colleague that my school were appointing internally for role on the leadership team. I waited and waited to see if anyone would formally contact me about the role. I did eventually get an email, telling me about the position, saying, ‘let me know if you are interested.’ I replied stating that I would love to apply, but I could not start in the new term, as I was on maternity leave. The reply just said, ‘I am sure there will be opportunities in the future.’

My morale was on the floor. Pregnancy fills you with vulnerability, but I have never felt more isolated. My professional confidence was non-existent.

At the end of my second maternity leave, I went in to speak with my head teacher. I requested flexible working under my current contract. With no grandparent support, and the cost of nursery almost surpassing my daily income, I stated my desire to continue my role as a middle leader, but in a part-time capacity. With a huge smile, she told me that she would take it to the relevant people, and to leave it with her.

Two weeks later, a letter arrived. My request to work part-time had been approved. They could offer me a three day a week teaching position. Phew! But only if I relinquished my leadership role.

Enter an all-consuming, sickening, curdling void.

Why should I have to give up a role that I have worked tirelessly to both achieve and retain? Why should I have to choose between being a mother and a professional? Why can I not be both? Yes, the role is incredibly demanding, but why could I not continue in post, but over three days?

My sister, who works in global banking, received commission when she was on maternity; she haggled her salary and her request to return to work for three days was accepted straight away. Did this affect her title? Did it boot.

Why are women’s professional experiences post-maternity so different? Why do they vary so starkly between the private and public sectors? Why do we still live in an age where it is acceptable to de-skill a woman, and strip her of her professional responsibilities, just because she wants to work part-time?

Shaking, I read out the letter to my mother on the phone. I should have known better. Embracing her inner Hyacinth Bucket, she calmly told me that her friend, Karen, ‘you know the one, the district judge, well she went back to work full-time when her daughter was three months old, and it hasn’t done her any harm, has it?’

I have no idea why she does not understand my desire to be both a mother and a leader. In her eyes, it is simply impossible. Evidently, she did not possess the same carnal desire for her children that burns inside me.

I am by no means stating that ‘Karen’ was wrong for doing what she did. Every single woman should have their rights respected, whatever their approaches may be.

After my son was born, he became breast-obsessed. I could not get him to drink from any other worldly object, other than my nipple. At 8 months old, notoriously wobbly, I left him in a circle of cushions, in an unfamiliar room, surrounded by strangers, so that I could return to work. The longest I had been away from him in all that time was three hours. We were both heartbroken. Much to his dismay, my nipples went with me.

I did not want to repeat this experience with my daughter. I wanted to be with her. Equally, I did not want to work all day just to pay someone else to look after my children. So with much regret, I accepted her offer.

All the hype around my presence and ability has all but dissolved away. The leadership team no longer seek my advice or approval. Their once approving smiles no longer reach my direction. Staff no longer come to me for advice and support. In a school where the role of ‘just a teacher’ is not valued, I have pretty much faded into obscurity. I am now being managed by a 26-year-old fire-cracker. She reminds me of me, before children. Somehow, I feel as though I have travelled back a decade. With a salary to match. No responsibility. Undervalued. Unappreciated. Nada. Silch.

Fight it? Yes, I could, but I don’t have the energy. I also need to pay the mortgage. Equally, I run the risk of being blacklisted across local schools. Education can be an incredibly insular sector, especially around these parts.

Perhaps when my youngest goes to school in a few years, then I will start to think about my career again. Although it will be a much steeper ladder to climb. But for now, I am just going to channel all of my energy into the one thing that I CAN control: being the best mother I can be.


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