The background story
When I started my teaching career in September 2007, my only ambition was to be the best teacher I could be. I had no plans to progress into leadership and if I were to have been asked where I saw myself in 5 years I’d have imagined myself taking a career break to be a full time mum. The best laid plans…
Within a year I’d been appointed as Coordinator of Teacher Induction and then in September 2009 I became Second in English. As it turned out, I was more ambitious than I’d realised. I wanted to have an impact beyond the students that I taught. Being Second allowed me to have a significant input into decisions that affected the whole department and I soon started considering the idea of pursuing a Head of Department role.
Then in September 2011, after relocating to London over the summer, my first son was born. I’d left a school that I loved and was thriving in, moved somewhere new and had a baby – I didn’t know what was going to happen next with my career. What I did know fairly swiftly was that being a full time mum was not for me. Thankfully I managed to secure a part-time post for September 2012 which allowed me to get back into teaching but also allowed me to dedicate time to the very important job of raising my son.
Working three days a week has worked really well for me over the past three years. To begin with, the pay covered the cost of putting my son in nursery with a little bit left over (this is in part due to the fact we live in London but I work out of London so don’t get the additional pay). However, with the arrival of my second son in January 2014 I had to make the decision whether I was going to stay at home full time or lose the household a few hundred pound a month to go to work. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me and so, for the past year, I’ve been paying to teach.
It hasn’t been easy. With a mortgage and two children under 4 in nursery it has been a real stretch but I don’t regret the decision.
So why do I pay to teach?
I am a teacher
I’ve realised that a huge part of my identity is that I am a teacher. This isn’t just a job for me; it is who I am. If I were to draw a diagram of the components of myself, the teacher portion would be pretty big. Therefore, not teaching really doesn’t make much sense to me. Who would I be?
I had a year out with my first son and, in all honesty, I felt a bit lost. I’d been previewing the film of me as a mother for many years. Cue a montage of scenes: me prancing about in my Cath Kidston apron making up batches of delicious cupcakes with my son sitting, and playing happily stacking cups, on the floor; coffee mornings with other mums; picnics in the park… [insert other super mum, idealistic visions].
The reality, of course, was rather different. Finding the time to finish a cup of tea was a challenge let alone home baking. Having told my mum that I’d become one of those women who’d iron her bedsheets, I barely even managed to iron what I wanted to wear. For some reason my son didn’t get the concept of sitting still and, being a tinker, would gleefully climb the furniture, empty cupboards and swipe entire contents off shelves. It was relentlessly demanding and that is to say nothing of the sleep deprivation and the challenge parenting places on seemingly simple tasks like getting out of the house. If I was to pick a soundtrack for that year it’d be a compilation of ‘In the Night Garden’ songs. On repeat. “Yes – my name is Igglepiggle , Igglepiggle, niggle, wiggle, diggle!”
Not only was the film of my life not playing out quite how I’d imagined, how, I wondered, was looking after one tiny human more of a challenge than a room full of 30 hormonal teenagers?
The answer, I think, is that full time parenting just isn’t for me. I could feel guilty about that but I’m a pragmatist. For some, becoming a parent is a revelation and they find what they’re meant to be doing. They’re natural mothers or fathers and being a full time parent suits them. My full time parenting friends are inspirational and I never cease to be impressed with the fantastic job they do. But it’s not for me in the same way that being a teacher isn’t for everybody. I found what I’m meant to be doing when I trained to be a teacher. It’s who I am.
I enjoy my job
I love being in school – it makes me happy. For me, teaching is a vocation. I enjoy the variety, the challenge and the interaction with teenagers (see my post here about how I’d describe the job of teaching teenagers). That’s not to say my boys don’t make me happy, they do, but I need that fulfilment I get from being in the classroom. That may sound incredibly selfish but I happen to think that being happy makes me a better mother and teaching makes me happy.
It’s an investment
My ambition and drive rather took me by surprise but now that I’ve embraced it, I want to progress. My boys won’t be in nursery forever so paying to work for this short period of time is an investment in that progression. If I had taken a career break it not only would have delayed things but I wouldn’t have learnt everything I’ve learnt over the past few years.
Furthermore, I see it as an investment in my children’s development. Their nursery is absolutely fantastic in every single way and they are very happy there. I don’t even let them play with Play Doh inside the house anymore (if you’ve tried getting it out of carpets you’d understand) so there’s no way I’d be allowing them to do the kind of messy things they get up to at nursery (playing with shaving foam, rolling around in big buckets of spaghetti, water fun). They’ve had the opportunity to watch eggs hatch into chicks and caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies. They’ve socialised with other little ones their age and have interacted with a range of responsible adults. I’m confident that they’ve got an awful lot out of being at nursery. It’s worth every penny.
I want to make a difference
Cheesy, I know, but true. I remember saying this when I went for my PGCE interview in response to the question, ‘Why do you want to be a teacher?’ I want to help young people achieve the very best that they can.
After a year of paying to teach, things are about to change. I’ve been appointed as a Lead Practitioner in a new school and will be working full time from September. It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity but I won’t deny that I’m nervous about moving away from part-time teaching, perhaps forever, into the demands of a promotion and working full-time. I am, however, relieved that it should mean that we’re breaking even on the childcare cost front.
I don’t know if I’m the only teacher out there whose been paying to work (I’d be interested to hear from anybody else who’s been in a similar position) but I don’t regret it for a moment. For me it has been absolutely the right decision. It’s also got to say something about how brilliant teaching is, hasn’t it, that somebody’s willing to pay to do it? Take all those negative press stories about the state of teaching with a pinch of salt. Yes it’s a challenging role but maybe that’s why it’s so rewarding.