Is teaching a family-friendly profession? Many have gone part-time to seek that elusive balance between work and life. But does going part-time actually pay off? Sherish Osman isn’t convinced…
10 years ago, when I qualified as a teacher, I was single and had no children. I stayed at work until after 6pm almost every night. I would then go home and my mum would have made dinner for me. Life was all about work and I loved it.
Fast forward to the present: I’m married, have two children and live in my own home. Things have become, let’s say, challenging. To try to balance work and life, I decided to go part-time after my second child, but I’m not sure it’s the answer.
After my first child was born, my passion for the job did not change, but I knew that I had other responsibilities which needed to be seen to. I returned to work full-time, and in the role I was doing, I had enough hours while I was at work to get most things done and bring home minimal work.
It meant that my son was at nursery and I would leave either when the school day finished, or straight after any meetings or scheduled events. Anything not done by then, would wait until the following day, knowing I’d be back in school. I would still have the time to do it.
My second maternity leave coincided with the global pandemic. I had spent almost the whole year with my two boys, and realised how much I enjoyed watching them grow, and how much I wanted to be around them and be there for them. I also struggled to think how I would manage work and life. I was in the fortunate position that my husband could support us even if I went part-time and the logical answer was to reduce my hours. However, having worked full-time all my life, it worried me.
This is very common, and according to Understanding Society, “Fewer than one-in-five of all new mothers, and 29 percent of first-time mothers, return to full-time work in the first three years after maternity leave.” Mothers all over the country are having to compromise their jobs in order to have a better work-life balance.
The study then goes on to say that “Mothers who leave employment completely are three times more likely to return to a lower-paid or lower-responsibility role than those who do not take a break.” This is probably why most women would choose to go part-time as opposed to leaving altogether, as it would mean that their experience, expertise and value would all come to nothing. As if having children meant they were automatically not any good at their job.
Seeing these figures and statements, it added to my worry about going part-time, but with my husband being the main earner (again, typical, according to Understanding Society: “the man was the main earner in 54 percent of couples. This increases to 69 percent three years after birth”), it was either up to me to stay full-time and struggle with pick-ups/drop-offs/managing workload; go part-time; or leave altogether and risk being demoted or finding a job later at a lower salary.
After umm-ing and ahh-ing for so long, I applied for flexible working, and it was approved. My current contract is to work 4 days a week, where my teaching hours are compressed into 3 days in school. In principle, this sounds great. I go into school every other day, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and am at home the other two days.
But is it as great as it sounds?
Firstly, a year into my new contract, and I am still trying to adjust. In a job like teaching, it’s hard to switch off on the weekend, let alone in the middle of the week. Mentally, I’m always at work. Being in school three days a week, where pretty much all my time is taken up teaching, I barely get time to do my planning and marking. I still need to ensure that I leave in good enough time to pick up my son from nursery, and then knowing I won’t be in ‘the next day’, anything that needs to be done for anyone for the following day gets taken home; to do when the boys have gone to sleep.
On the days that I am at home, I wonder on many occasions if it’s a good use of my time. Those who have children know how full-on and needy they can be. I find my mind wandering back to the amount of work I have to do, and I wait until I can get some peace before sitting down to do it.
Of course I do it, but is it actually sustainable? To be working either at school, or looking after my children during the day and then get on with more work after they’ve gone to bed? How much longer can I continue before I burn out? I’ve been reading on social media about the number of parents who are leaving the education system completely for this very reason.
Working part-time also feels like I’m neither here nor there. At school, I may miss certain notices or meetings or events that fall on the days I’m not in. Working every other day also means pretty much all my classes are shared, and the logistics of knowing who will be teaching what can get messy. Would these things happen if I were still working full time? Would I get the time to do all the things I needed to do?
According to research carried out by MTPT Project, there are many other mothers who, like me, mostly aged between 30-39, tried working part-time to balance their work and life, but it didn’t work out for them, and they ended up leaving the profession due to it being unsustainable. Some of the women claimed that although they were officially working part-time, and receiving a part-time salary, their workload would be considered full-time. So, would they be better off working full-time?
I know this is the best option for me at the moment and the school I’m working at, are beyond supportive of all the decisions I make, as is my husband. I guess it’s natural to feel unsettled and lost when part of your life changes. Should I feel guilty for feeling this way? Should I feel lucky to be working part-time?
I realise I may come across as being ungrateful to those working part-time where it works for them, or especially to anyone who has applied for part-time hours and been rejected. But this side of the coin needs to be discussed.
Teaching part-time is not the silver bullet that it seems.