Imagine the scene. I’m racing down the motorway, pedal to the metal, desperately trying to get to my daughter’s school. I’m running half an hour late for one of the most important events in the school calendar: parents’ evening. When I finally arrive, I pat myself down to try and look presentable, before scrambling into a seat next to my husband. I mouth “sorry” as I join the meeting, which is already in full flow.
In recent months I have been absent from countless events – from my children’s football matches to their school plays. The reason is ironic: it’s because I am a teacher. I struggle to find time to spend with my family because of the 12-hour days I am expected to work. My students get every bit of me and I would never want to give any less – but it seems unfair that my own children have to suffer.
It’s all the usual things that are tying me down: data and tracking progress, endless marking, pressure to prepare for Ofsted and proving that my pupils are working at the right level. But it’s not just the workload that makes it impossible for me to be there for my children. My main gripe is that there’s no flexibility about when my work gets done. There is a culture of staying until all hours, which means I can’t pick my children up from school or make them dinner. I am happy to do the work, but it doesn’t seem like a massive ask to leave on time every now and then, and finish bits off at home.
When I do occasionally leave early, the judgmental eyes of the senior leadership team look down on me. I left at 5.30pm one day to pick up my son from school because my husband was away and my mum was poorly. I had already spent hours planning lessons that I knew were good, but the fact that I wasn’t floating around the corridors until midnight just wasn’t acceptable. Comments were made. “Oh, you’re leaving early,” one colleague said. In the staff meeting the next morning, praise was showered on those who had worked late the night before.
Then there are the events that teachers are expected to attend, which also rob me of valuable family time. I am forced to go to staff meetings and curriculum evenings even when they aren’t related to my subject; sometimes I feel like a showpiece, there to be displayed to parents regardless of whether I’m needed or not.
All this means I am forced to compromise on the time I spend with my children. They don’t complain any more when I miss their school events, they just get a disappointed look on their faces. I feel I am shortchanging them. I am tired of giving excuses and I’m sure they are tired of hearing them.
I believe it is possible to be a good teacher and a mother. All we need is the support of schools and managers, and for them to allow us the flexibility we need. It’s about how we are allowed to manage our work. There shouldn’t be this pressure to be tied to our desks; staying later doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re working any harder. Managers need to understand that parents have their own children to care for – so what if we don’t stay late? We can work at other times.
It’s because of this lack of support that I’ve had to make the tough decision to leave teaching this year. I have little choice but to go for the sake of my family. I don’t know what I am going to do next – I need to spend the summer thinking about how I can use my skills in a role that will be more flexible. It’s a big step and one that I hadn’t anticipated making, but it’s got to the point where something has to change. My children are nine and 12, and I want to capture these last moments of them growing up.
Every day is a balancing act for mums in any profession and I guess we’ve all got to get used to that. But I worry about the future of education – I fear that this ridiculous working culture is making teaching unworkable for mums.