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Thursday 6 June 2019

Why I didn’t return to Teaching after the birth of my first child

I loved my job as a Primary School Teacher. I had specialised in Early Years during my teacher training and landed a role teaching Reception in a one form entry school in West Yorkshire. Play based learning is my passion. Children and their development both intrigue and fascinate me. (Make me invisible for a day and I’ll spend it watching a child at play and analysing every little thing they do). I felt like I’d found my calling and I genuinely loved going into work every day and making lots of small differences to the children in my care. I felt privileged to be in a position where I was making a difference in those critical early years of life.

why I didn't return to teaching

I’d just started to put plans in motion to further climb the rungs of the career ladder when I found out I was expecting. I’d been recommended for a position elsewhere, closer to home which felt perfect for me, but suddenly the moves I had been making in this game of life felt like they were being played for someone else. As much as I wanted to climb higher, I felt a huge responsibility towards any future school, or children, to place myself in a position which I knew I would be leaving shortly afterwards – albeit temporarily! I decided I had no choice but to stay put and continue to strive for inspirational learning opportunities and fun, worthwhile days within my current Reception Class. I had an amazing Teaching Assistant and Support Assistant who totally ‘got’ my ethos and did everything they could to help me guide my class towards the type of learning environment befitting of 4 and 5 year old children. I carried on...

 Why I didn’t return to Teaching after the birth of my first child

Being ambitious and career focused, I naively thought that nothing would change. I thought I would be able to work right up until the end of term before Christmas (I was due on the 23rd December) and then return the following September. Oh how very wrong I was!
Halfway through my pregnancy I started to struggle with something called PGP, or, SPD as it is also known. This meant that my legs would just ‘give way’ or ‘pop out’ of my hips at any given moment and I was also in a significant amount of pain. I switched my Teacher’s chair for a birthing ball during carpet times and stayed as mobile as I could around the classroom. Teaching PE was a challenge, and fitting myself and my ever expanding bump into a tiny classroom with 30+ children was tricky, but we managed. Around the same time the focus within the school switched. Where I was once given the freedom and trust to teach my class in a way that benefitted them as individuals, with a focus on play based learning, some members of senior management had decided that a more formal approach to teaching and learning was required in order to ‘tick’ the Ofsted boxes. Classes and activities that I had undertaken previously and were graded as ‘outstanding lessons’ were suddenly deemed to be the opposite. Our much loved ‘anticipation box activity’ which accounted for a HUGE amount of purposeful learning within my class, was no longer allowed. Continuous Provision and Learning Through Play felt like something I had to cling onto with both hands, whilst being pulled in the opposite direction. An outside agency who had filmed my teaching the previous term, as part of an ‘outstanding teacher training’ programme contacted me privately to express their concerns at the new agenda within the school and to advise me that my efforts would be better placed elsewhere.

Suddenly there were observations and drop-ins every week. Staff who didn’t understand the concept of Early Years, or indeed, the EYFS Curriculum, would stand and watch me immersed in play with the children, scaffolding their learning and extending their thinking whilst introducing key ideas for their next steps in learning, all within a child-led environment …and then sit me down for a feedback session and ask why I wasn’t sat at a table teaching them formally instead. I wanted to bang my head on that table I was so frustrated with the lack of respect for how young children learn best. My job became more about educating other adults than it did about educating the children.

When we build a house we start with the foundations – if those foundations have gaps, or aren’t built with patience, care and attention, anything that sits on top of them will never be as complete or as sturdy as it could have been. The potential starts at the beginning. It is much harder to go back and fill in those gaps, impossible even sometimes, and they WILL lead to issues further down the line because of their very existence. We can’t always see the value of what is taking place in the foundations, they are invisible once complete…and once the house is built we often forget about them entirely – but they are still there supporting our very existence. Those first few building blocks with which we begin to grow and continue our journey upwards. This is the Foundation Stage, aka, the Early Years, FS1, FS2, EYFS, Reception, Nursery or whatever else we choose to call it. It is one of the single most important periods of time in a child’s life and we HAVE to get it right.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The loss of the previous Nursery Teacher made things feel unsettled and unsteady for a while and I missed the support of a familiar team member who would also be a voice for the EYFS alongside mine…but the new Nursery Teacher shared my passion for Early Years and her ideas for learning mirrored my own. We laid out objectives for the type of planning, teaching and learning we would undertake and it was nice to be on the same page without having to explain or fight for an environment that works as an EYFS classroom should do. Although we no longer work together, I have followed her career path from Teacher to Educational Consultant for Hygge in the Early Years – which offers training for educators to transform their practice and wellbeing, and I do find some peace in the fact that there is still a voice out there fighting the good fight for the Early Years education system. Whereas I now try to inspire and stimulate ideas for others to use in learning through play via my blog and social media channels, she uses her knowledge and experience to offer training to others.

So back to the story…


why i left teaching. red apple on a floral background

Despite the strengthening team down in the Foundation Stage, the pressures from higher up were still weighing heavily. At the same time I had a new starter in my class who had been sent from another country to live with his grandparents and he was struggling with frequent, violent outbursts…not just towards other children, but also towards me and in particular – the growing child within my tummy. Being very slow and unsteady due to the pregnancy SPD, I found that I was unable to dart across the room to keep other children safe during sudden outbursts, but if I stayed too close I became vulnerable myself. We had to remove scissors from the classroom and any other sharp objects and my job became something I began to dread turning up for. The hardest part of the whole situation was knowing that I had a child who desperately needed support and nurture, but I was unable to offer him what he needed. Balancing the needs of every child and keeping staff wellbeing at the forefront was tough. The pressure of the job became incredibly hard to deal with.

After a few too many early contractions and a couple of fainting episodes and black outs due to my blood pressure, I was signed off work a few weeks earlier than I had originally planned to start my maternity leave.

I was thrown into life as a mother of a newborn and came down to earth with a bump. I wasn’t prepared for how this birth of a new life would completely change me and after a traumatic labour I struggled with PTSD and hypervigilance. I found it hard to leave my son in another room let alone think about leaving him with another person (never mind the fact that he breastfed constantly) and I soon began to realise that returning to work 4 or 5 days a week in just a few months time just wasn’t going to be possible.

By the time Easter rolled around and I had to give my terms notice for any changes in my return to work, Arthur wasn’t even 4 months old. There more a number of factors I had to consider when trying to make a decision:

1) Childcare – I didn’t have family to help, so we would have to foot the cost of this completely. Bearing in mind I was in school by 7am (leaving the house between 6.15-6.30am) and I often didn’t leave until 6pm, sometimes later, I would also need to pay for wrap around care. We worked out that my entire salary would be spent on childcare at that time.

2) Paperwork at home – I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but it is no secret that Teachers work hard and do many, many more hours than those spent in school. I used to work every evening and every weekend with half a day off on a Sunday. Similar with holidays, the only holiday I felt I had an actual break was midway through the summer holidays before I started preparing for the new term – how would I manage to do this and also be a good mum?

3) Breastfeeding – I planned to continue until Arthur was at least 2 years. In Reception we didn’t have break times, only lunchtime. How would I manage to teach my full timetable and find time to express milk?

4) Illness or emergencies – My husband works long hours and is often away. This meant that drop offs, pick ups and any emergencies, closures or illness would be for me to deal with. I worried about how I would manage this whilst working so far away in a role that required me to be so present.

5) My role upon return – Whilst I was on maternity leave, the Nursery and Reception classrooms were ‘knocked through’ and made into one mixed Foundation Stage classroom. I didn’t find out about this until after it had happened, and even then, only because my TA had mentioned it in passing thinking that I knew. I felt deeply upset at the time that I hadn’t been kept in the loop with regards to any changes to my role and my anxiety at the time meant that I almost felt that I wasn’t actually welcome to return. Many of my personal resources from home (yep Teachers often ‘use’ their own stuff) had mistakenly been thrown away during the change around and clear out and It just compounded my feelings of ‘not fitting’ in with the new systems within the school.

In spite of the reasons above, I loved Teaching and I wanted to return. I decided to put in a request for part time hours once my maternity leave had ended. My request was denied. There wasn’t enough funding in place to recruit another to fit in with my hours and the school had an Ofsted inspection looming. They wanted to continue to work on moving up from being a ‘good’ school to an ‘outstanding’ school and it was all hands on deck. I handed in my notice and made a different plan.

Since then I have focused on working with children in other ways whilst also expanding and looking after my own family. I regularly share ideas for tuff trays and play based learning on my blog, YouTube channel, Facebook and on my Instagram page because that interest and that passion is still burning within me, and I want to inspire others to have some fun with learning. I have no idea whether I will ever go back into mainstream Teaching. Certainly not whilst my own children are young and within their own ‘early years’.  I have considered registering with some teaching agencies to dip  my toe into supply work once the little ones are older (I used to work as a recruitment consultant within a teaching agency). After that? I really hope this country finds a way to move forward towards a curriculum which inspires a love of learning and fun, rather than a means of formally grading and tracking progress to hold schools and Teachers accountable. I’m not holding my breath though...

Sarah x

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