This is another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com where along with my stuff, there’s a veritable selection box of delicious educational treats. Mine’s like the coconut one that’s always left until the end. Click the link to subscribe.
Given my barely coherent utterings on here, along with the lack of care and attention I give to things like personal appearance, health, a regular bathing regime, organisation, keeping my tie out of my breakfast bowl, the ability to keep the classes I teach from going into visible shutdown as I talk passionately about Katherine Mansfield, and all the other things that are more or less essential in the pursuit of being a completely functioning member of the human race (or, at the very least, not a total slob), it may come as some surprise to you all that I am a parent. Twice.
It often comes as a surprise to me too. Seriously, the amount of times I’ve almost wandered out of Morrison’s without one of them, occupied more by a soon-to-messily-consumed Steak Bake than by the fact that the youngest has done a bunk in an attempt to wrestle one of the salmon off the fish counter and into scaly submission is a bit too numerous not to be slightly worrying. Or would be if I ever mentioned it. Although there’s a good chance that my wife is going to be reading this at some point. So… errr… sorry, Caz. Love you!
But yes, despite my fairly obvious shortcomings, I act as a parental unit to two small human males. Go me, beating the odds and obvious milky-tie based disadvantages like that.
People say that parenthood changes your life. They’re not wrong. In fact, they’re not right enough. Change is too small a word for it. Change is where, instead of your usual bowl of rice krispies for breakfast, you opt for a piece of toast. Parenthood is where, instead of your usual bowl of rice krispies for breakfast, someone dumps a cruise liner on you and asks you to eat it using only a crocodile with a machine gun. And that’s if you’re any good at it. Otherwise, there’s no machine-gun-wielding crocodile for you.
So how does parenthood fit in with the job of teaching? Can you eat that cruise liner and still have room to chomp down on the myriad of pressures that a classroom career provides? I think you can, but as many people have found out (women, in the vast majority) it’s incredibly tough. What is already a juggling, plate-spinning extravaganza of a job becomes a juggling, plate-spinning, blindfolded-whilst-set-on-fire extravaganza of a job – and that’s if you have a decent amount of support both at work and at home. Not everyone is that lucky. Sometimes the only option is to focus on your own kids by leaving the kids that you teach behind.
With ongoing concerns about recruitment and retention of staff, where the sector’s life-blood is being lost and there’s not enough in the bank to make sure we can keep going, making the job more compatible with parenthood has to be one of the ways that we can stem the flow. The promotion of part-time places (including at management level) and a removal of the stigma attached to them might be of use. More flexibility regarding start and finish times to help with drop-off and pick-ups; financial support in relation to childcare; longer paternity leave – all these could help, but of course, there would be a cost. It’s about weighing up that cost against the greater long-term ramifications of losing so many who just want to have a family and actually be there for them occasionally, whilst also doing a job that they love and is incredibly important to society in general.
I’m one of the lucky ones. (Me, not my lads). I work a part-time role that means that I teach but I also act as the primary carer to the boys for part of the week. I have a partner who earns enough and has enough flexibility in her role to facilitate that. I do other bits and bobs (like this here column) to tide us over (subscribe and help me feed my kids!). And because I’m at home, we save on the huge childcare bills that would otherwise mean I would have to work full-time. One of my biggest expenses is the regular dry-cleaning of milk-stained ties.
But here’s the thing. You shouldn’t have to be lucky. As difficult as parenthood is, if put in the position of choosing that or teaching, I choose parenthood. Every time. Cruise Liners, crocodiles and all. So if we’re going to keep folk, let the job be one where that choice isn’t necessary.
Thanks for reading.