The MTPT Project - Handling Maternity Leave as a Teacherby Gemma Campbell
As a college lecturer, being pregnant was such a different experience to having been pregnant whilst a teacher at a school. The existence of a staffroom in a school immediately makes you one of a community – colleagues and friendships overlap and sharing the good news of an impending baby is celebrated by all. Sharing an office in a large college with only 1 or 2 colleagues (who are often like ships passing in the night) means that the announcement is made rather officiously to all during a staff meeting. You feel very much under the microscope as almost everybody is calculating where that will leave them for the next year regarding timetables and workload. The natural effusions are tempered into a quick round of applause followed by an uncomfortable silence as the next Agenda item is quickly moved on to. At best colleagues may grin at you in the corridor or you get a little congratulatory email pop up in your inbox. It felt a very lonely pregnancy the second time around.
And then began my actual maternity leave. Suddenly I was at home with baby no. 2 and there was no little antenatal gaggle of friends nor friends who were having babies at the same time as with my first. I wasn’t lonely, but I found my days dull. Just as I started my maternity leave, I also discovered that my subject courses wouldn’t be running again and although my job was secure, I had in essence been demoted. I started job-hunting but realised to return to secondary school teaching I was out of the loop both subject-wise and even in my middle management role. I began to search for CPD opportunities and started a Chwarae Teg course a few weeks after my son was born, to build my leadership and management skills as well as completing the Chartered Teacher Programme. Then I stumbled across the MTPT Project – a wonderful informal community of like-minded teachers on leave. They hosted coffee mornings where you could share your CPD and find out about other learning opportunities. They did local walks but with lovely educational links, you could take back into the classroom. And for those spread across the country, there were the Twitter chats and connections. Unfortunately, where I live in Wales there was no network and so no local coffee mornings. The founder Emma Shepperd however was quick to offer me the opportunity to build my very own local network as one of the regional representatives. Pre COVID we had a lovely little coffee morning in the newly opened Dylan’s in Llandudno with college lecturers, primary and secondary teachers joining to find out more and discuss maternity leave through the education lens and those Burgundy book challenges (A handbook detailing all the national conditions of service for school teachers in England and Wales). We enjoyed discovering the suffragist links at the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden one Summer’s day to provide content for future assemblies and an art-inspired afternoon at the Mostyn Gallery during the colder months with a HE Lecturer swelling our numbers.
These coffee mornings, although not currently in-person events, still exist but simply online and now the network isn’t limited to just your local area but a much wider network of new virtual parent-teacher friends all enjoying a warm drink in the comfort of their own home via Zoom. We have adoptive parents, fathers discussing the differences shared parental leave offers and even Grandparents who have joined us to support their own teacher children in their roles as parent-teachers.
Unfortunately, as my Maternity leave ended I was no closer to finding and securing a job back in a secondary school when the MTPT offered me a chance at turning my challenges into something more through their Accreditation programme. Completing this allowed me much deeper reflection on where my skills were at and what I had achieved and what I needed to do to transition back into my slightly lesser role as a classroom lecturer. I was also supported through their excellent Coaching opportunity which saw me gain much-needed interview experience at a local Secondary school and almost immediately gained an offer of promotion in my current workplace. Realising that as a mum of two, staying 5 minutes from home rather than 35 minutes was going to improve the work/life balance, I took the promotion opportunity. My final Coaching session allowed me to really review what it was that I wanted from my life – something very few of us are able to do honestly with 2 children, a mortgage and a stable job. I successfully negotiated flexible working with my new role affording me an admin day at home each week. And the 3-year plan, although hijacked a little by COVID restrictions, is very much in place. The support of the network of MTPT has seen me be able to cope much better with the parent-teacher life and ALL of the challenges remote teaching present whilst looking after a toddler. Because we are all in the same storm although some of these teacher supporters are in very different boats with the England/Wales differences in how restrictions and remote teaching operates. With others attempting to sail their course whilst pregnant and those who are navigating IVF or Adoption processes during these very uncertain times. But as Parent Teachers, this network has been invaluable to us all in some small (and often huge) way.
If you are a teacher trying to get pregnant, pregnant already or on parental leave and you want to find out more check out the Twitter #MTPTProject or go to the website www.mtpt.org.uk