Career opportunities don’t always present themselves at the most opportune time. Hetty Steele outlines her strategy for success when promotions and pregnancy collide.

My first daughter was five months old when we were plunged into the two weeks to “flatten the curve” (*cynical laugh*) and I was on maternity leave. As the weeks rolled on and it became apparent that the landscape of education was set to be turbulent for the foreseeable future (cheeky litotes there for any English Language enthusiasts), I decided to use this opportunity to take a couple of years out of the classroom to do a PhD.

Once that was over, I would dive right back in with the best CPD you could possibly hope for, and maybe use the extra qualification as a stepping stone to become a head of department.

And thats sort-of what I did, although it immediately became obvious that without external funding, PhDs arent financially viable full-time (but thats a story for another day). I took a small detour via a bit of in-school tutoring, but I emerged in February 2021 part-way through my PhD and ready to re-apply for a teaching position. And I was pregnant, again.

Below Is a brief outline of my experience of applying for a promotion whilst pregnant: how to tackle the interview stage, maternity leave CPD options, how to hit the ground running and managing expectations once you land.

The Interview

Now Im no Human Resources expert, but even I know there are certain things you cant ask at a job interview. Anything about race, religion, or sexual orientation, basically. And *quite* rightly so. Its none of their business.

But when it came to pregnancy, it was a bit of a grey area for me. I knew they werent allowed to ask if I was planning on having more children, but if I turned up with a bump were we allowed to address the elephant in the room? Would it decrease my likelihood of being offered the job at all? Suddenly, I was unsure.

So I started doing some research into promotion with an upcoming maternity leave: I read some fantastic, uplifting personal stories about women who had gone for interviews for Senior Leadership teams with a prominent bump and securing the post (https://womened.org/blog/stepping-in-and-stepping-out-maternity-leave-on-senior-leadership-team) and equally, I read horror stories about women who were offered the job, informed their potential employer at that point that they were pregnant and had the offer rescinded.

My takeaways? Honesty. In many ways having a visible bump is a blessing because you dont need to break the news to them and everyone knows where they stand. Be open and honest about how you propose to manage the balance between maternity leave and your new role (schools arent allowed to ask you when you plan to return, but if you have a set date in mind, share it if youre comfortable). Show that you have considered the CPD that you can undertake while on maternity. State the new skills you know parenthood will give you.

Maternity Leave CPD

I really enjoyed this aspect of gaining a promotion right before maternity leave: there are so many fantastic resources out there, perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic.

In the first few months of parenthood, you wont be reading academic articles or pedagogical tomes. But maybe (and if not, no dramas) when the new offspring is in more of a routine, you might get an hour to read *something*. A blog, an article – you might even get time to listen to a whole podcast (in your headphones whilst you walk a new-born around the room, rocking them to sleep for their nap, for example).

There are now fantastic conferences available online and more and more the trend seems to be to record these so you can access talks at a later date (while small children are in bed, hallelujah!)

Dont underestimate the power of coaching sessions either – Maternity Project for example have lots of different dates (and depending on where you live, some are fully-funded) with workshops on returning to work.

Be organised and make a small, manageable pile of things you would like to get through. And if nothing gets done that week, so what? Youve got some time.

Hitting the Ground Running

Keeping In Touch (KIT) days are great for touching base with a new team; ideally you would get to meet them before you go on maternity or paternity leave, but if not theres no reason why you cant meet for the first time after. I used mine for catch-up meetings, as ideas sessions for new schemes of work, to look over some moderation for exam classes, and to attend whole-school INSET.

I tied myself up in knots over the fact my new baby wouldnt take a bottle and had to come with me, but honestly no-one minded. I know colleagues who used them to go on school trips, and you can use conferences (in-person or digital) as KIT days as well. I think the key is to take as much time in the new baby bubble as you need, and then not be afraid to tentatively send an email or two to seem how the ground lies, and then go in-person (if you want to) to give yourself confidence for your return, whenever that may be.

If you dont want to lose a day of maternity or paternity being in school thanks-very-much, that’s also absolutely fine too. You do you.

Expectations

Once youre back and in a new team, with exciting new challenges, with a new child (ah!), I cannot recommend enough setting your own hard-line boundaries and communicating those with your team and/or line manager.

There is a temptation to proveoneself when given a promotion and of course this can be positive in that youre aiming for the best results. But it can also be toxic.

Sure, do the best job you can and use every resource in your power to get the best outcomes for the team. But you have a small child now. Your line manager probably wont even notice that you left last Tuesday at 6pm rather than 4pm because you were tweaking a scheme of work, but your one-year-old will notice that you werent home for bath time.

For me, the hard-line was home-time. I live just under an hours drive from school. My return to work coincided with my husband being sent away on a military tour for six months.

Tell your team your circumstances and delegate if necessary. Heaven forbid, ask for help. Unless I have a very specific (and they are always short-term) extra-curricular activity, I leave school by 5pm. My extra-curricular involvement is focused during school hours. That was my red line.

In theory, pregnancy is no barrier to promotion and might even be a positive (depending on the CPD you can manage and the open-mindedness of your new school). Be proactive in looking for opportunities available while youre away from school, but also be realistic and kind to yourself about what you are going to achieve. Talk to people, and try not to have too much of a point to prove.

Hopefully this new promotion will result in you being at the school for years to come; think of your return as building solid foundations, not fire-fighting and unnecessarily trying to prove yourself immediately.

Author

Hetty Steele is a PhD student and Head of Drama at a comprehensive school in Bishop's Stortford. Hetty also contributes regularly to Litdrive UK and to MTPT Project - a UK charity for parent-teachers.

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