At the age of 26, I finally found what I wanted to do with my career when I enrolled on a part-time PGCE course at Goldsmith’s University to become a secondary school English teacher. I then promptly managed to get pregnant with my first child only two months into the course, throwing my plans into disarray. I was able to complete the first half of the course before my daughter was born and I returned to finish my second school placement and graduate when she was around one year old. However, I did not look for a job after graduation as I was unable to see how I would manage to juggle my first years in teaching with having a very young child.
Once my daughter had started attending nursery school, I made some tentative steps towards returning to teaching by joining a pre-school organisation running classes to teach children about the natural world. This made me re-assess my decision to work at secondary level and I was able to see that teaching younger children would be very rewarding and would fit in better with caring for my daughter. Once I had reached this decision, I began to apply for jobs in primary schools, but I often would not even get a response to my applications, presumably overlooked in favour of candidates with more experience; no gap between qualifying and starting work; and with a qualification that related specifically to primary, rather than secondary education.
When a post became vacant at my daughter’s school, I applied and managed to get down to the final shortlist of candidates, but again lost out to someone with more relevant qualifications and more experience. Whilst I was buoyed by getting so far in the interview process, I also had to confront the fact that, without gaining additional experience in the primary sector, I was unlikely to be able to find a primary teaching job.
Fortunately, my daughter’s school were also advertising for another vacancy for the post of teaching assistant. Despite being over-qualified, I applied and was accepted and began a wonderful year of getting to understand the rhythms of the primary classroom and the various curricula for which the teacher is responsible, whilst not actually having to shoulder the responsibility for the teaching itself. When a teaching post became free the following year, I applied and became the teacher in the year group for which I had been TA the previous year. The year after that, I was able to make use of my English degree and secondary training to become Head of English and to move from teaching a broad curriculum to, once again, being a specialist English teacher, preparing children to sit for senior school entrance exams.
I wanted to share my story to show that, whilst the path to returning to work following a break can mean a more circuitous journey than might otherwise have been undertaken, the rewards of doing so can be great. I have been exceptionally lucky in being able to teach at the school where my daughter is a pupil, meaning that child care has not been problematic. Even so, I have found juggling having a young child with a full-time career challenging, especially during those times when I have been aware of prioritising the needs of my class above the needs of my own child as she spends yet another evening or weekend in work with me! However, whilst the hours are long and the pace can be relentless at times, working in a female-dominated, child-centred industry means that the needs of mothers are recognised and catered for more than perhaps they are in some other jobs. My job is stimulating and rewarding, giving me the opportunity to share my love and enthusiasm for my subject in the hope of inspiring the next generation.