Dear mummies and daddies…

I’ve blogged a few times about the difficulties I’ve found in balancing my personal and professional life since becoming a mother, but this is a message to all new parents who may be feeling the way I have…

Dear mummies and daddies who are struggling,

You are not alone. You are not failing. You can do this.

These three sentences were ones I desperately needed to hear for over a year, but never heard them.

Some of them were said and some weren’t but either way I never really heard them. The guilt that I was wearing blocked them out. I felt so incredibly guilty about everything: the piles of washing up; the dirty kitchen floor; the unmarked assessments; the poorly planned lessons; not seeing my son enough; not playing with my son enough.

Nothing I did was good enough. I was embarrassed by my continual failures and couldn’t ask for help.

It’s hard being a teacher. It’s hard being a new parent. It’s hard trying to avoid real or perceived mum judgement. And it’s very hard trying to do everything.But it’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t make you a failure as a teacher. And, most importantly, it does NOT make you a failure as a parent.

Take a moment and reread that last sentence.

It does NOT make you a failure as a parent.

I’ve been known to describe teaching as “the most wonderful nightmare” in the past. But parenting is the toughest dream-come-true I’ve ever come across. No matter who you are, it’s tough. When you first go back to work it’s tougher. But when you also try to care for countless children and do all the marking and all the admin and all the meetings and all the parents’ evenings and all the…

You get my point.

You have to give yourself a break. I don’t care how organised you are, you cannot do it all. And that’s ok. (No, honestly it really is.) It’s ok if your classes get the stock lesson from the scheme of learning once a fortnight because you don’t have time to customise every lesson for every class any more. It’s ok that you submitted your report data at midday and not 9am that one time as your little one was up all night so you couldn’t mark those last 6 books. And it’s ok if you say no to the “Could you just…” requests because you can’t fit your own job into your life anymore let alone any additional requests.

And it’s also ok if you tell your partner that you need them to watch the baby one Sunday afternoon because you know sacrificing those 3 hours then means you can have an actual Christmas holiday with your family without the marking guilt hovering over your shoulder.

You can do this. You will find a way to make it work for your family.

Don’t get me wrong, mistakes will be made, but remember what we tell our students: mistakes are ok as long as we learn from them and don’t dwell on them.

I’ve just handed my notice in to start a new job just down the road from home (it also happens to be my dream role). Yes I am worried that a two year old will amplify the usual stress of a new job. But as I was being offered the job I started to feel almost euphoric as the guilt I had been carrying lifted. Within moments I found myself relaxed and playing with Oliver in the silly and carefree way I hadn’t done for months. Over the next few days I found I was more patient and much calmer. And I was happier too. I’m not saying that changing jobs is the answer for everyone, but what it made me realise is how harmful the guilt and the blame is. Just how quickly it had invaded my being and, without me realising, it had changed me and my life. And definitely not for the better.

I can’t believe I had been stuck in this vicious cycle for so long.

So, new mummies and daddies, please listen. And I mean truly listen. Let this sink into your soul and start to break the hold of any guilt, any blame and any feelings of failure you may have:

You are not alone. You are not failing. You can do this.

With love, respect and support,

The numpty mummy

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Last year I survived; this year… thrive?

I made it through my first school year as a teacher-mummy, although at times I honestly didn’t think that was going to happen. But it was definitely a year about surviving and little else: some books took longer to mark than the policy-stated 2 weeks; some lessons were planned & created during break and taught immediately after; some balls were dropped (some of them even rolled away never to be seen again!)

But I got through it and I learnt a lot of lessons that I am taking in to this year:

How to survive homework.

Homework became a real problem for me. I often fell behind in my marking; my little one sometimes refused to recognise that I had work to do or I was shattered from being overwhelmed. Frequently, I had to hand books back with only part of the class having had their books marked. And even though the classes were really understanding the guilt grew and really started to take its toll.

So, this year I will be using booklets for KS4. I trialled it with a Y11 class last year and it worked well:

  • They could peer mark,
  • I could mark during lessons,
  • I didn’t have to worry about taking 30 books home and having to mark them in time for the next lesson (my son didn’t always play ball with going to sleep on time on the evenings I absolutely had to get my marking finished),
  • They liked them (some of them voluntarily told their tutor, who happens to be head of English 👌🏻)
  • They were uploaded to the learning platform so students could type, if they wanted, and reprint if they lost them.
  • It helped with my organisation as I didn’t forget what I’d set and when the deadline was (a common problem during my first months back. It takes a bloody long time for ‘baby brain’ to go away!)

The kindness of teachers on TES, LitDrive and Twitter can not be underestimated and has made my life so much easier. And taking (and editing for my classes) resources from others has given me back the time to make my own poetry booklet, which I will share once it’s been tested by my classes. And, most importantly, a little more time to spend with my son.

How to survive marking.

All homework will be done on paper. No negotiations! Yes, this will mean sticking in time at the start of lessons. And some books will look scrappy for a few weeks. And some students will stick it in the wrong place, or upside down, or back to front. But if I keep my standards up, they’ll work it out.

Paper is the answer. It’s easier to carry. It means I don’t have the pressure to mark a whole set by a certain period, so any mummy-emergencies which crop up can be dealt with without any ‘teacher-guilt’ creeping in.

I’ve also made DIRT task sheets for my GCSE Literature classes to stick in their books. This speeds up my marking as I don’t end up writing the same response tasks on the majority of mark slips, just a number code.

dirt tasks – higher

dirt-tasks-lower.docx

And my inner teacher-geek leapt to the front in Lidl when I saw a stamp kit. So, after playing with teenytiny letters one evening, I’ve now got a Language marking stamper. Just a quick stamp and a ‘delete as appropriate’ target for each Section B response should reduce the marking time for my largest class.

Obviously, I’ll still add anything else that’s needed, but, hopefully, this will save me a few more minutes.

Even if I only manage to save 5 minutes per class, that’s 40 minutes per fortnight I’ve reclaimed. If I can keep finding ways to make each job at least 5 minutes faster, that’s a lot of time back with my family.

How to survive planning.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! I used to rewrite whole schemes of work (because I enjoyed it and thought that I should) but now I see that as just work for works sake. Or time away from my family. I’m using the prewritten resources without guilt or second thought. A quick pre-read and pre-lesson tweak is all I need to do now. This is so much quicker! And it’s given me time to create some, in my opinion, pretty decent lessons for Y10 lower set poetry, which I’ve shared with the department (so, no teacher guilt for me!) and will upload to TES, once they’ve been pupil-tested.

Go to bed 20 minutes later.

I know it sounds weird, but it’s the best thing I’m doing at the moment.

Because in those 20 minutes, I’m making my lunch or having a shower. I used to squeeze these in in the morning and often end up running late which would create a stressful start to my day. Or worse still, mean I didn’t get to make a cup of tea until break! (Even writing it makes me feel a little stressed out) I’m not getting more sleep, I’m just getting better sleep as I’m not worrying or working out how much I’ve left myself to do in the morning.

Embrace the slow cooker / freezer.

Monday’s are always awful. It’s the first day away from my boy after the weekend. And it’s meeting day, so I’m always late back. Cuddles and play time would often be sacrificed for making dinner. Or I’d play and dinner would be late and Oliver would get hangry! But a decent slow cooker recipe book has helped with that. Set up to finish at dinner time, all that had to be done was put on a pan of rice once I got home. First day back after summer and I got in both cuddle and play time with dinner served on time. I felt like a winner that day! Today was defrosted leftovers reheated and next Monday will be the slow cooker again.

Talk.

This year, I’m going to tell people as soon as I feel it getting harder I start to feel overwhelmed. To often we feel we have to suffer in silence because everyone’s stressed or everyone’s busy. But that’s rubbish!

We work in an profession that takes student wellbeing very seriously. We will bend over backwards to ensure our students can cope, can thrive, can be happy. But we don’t think we should ask for the same things? Madness!

Our heads of department, our line managers, our SLT have a duty of care for us as well. Not only is it in their best interests to help and support us, but they want to (at least all the ones I’ve work with have). But they’re not mind readers. Don’t be afraid to say you can’t cope or that you need someone to help or that you just can’t see how you will meet that deadline. If they know, they can help. And if they help, you feel so much better.

Make time for me.

No matter how much time you can carve out for yourself, do it! You can’t spend your whole life just being mummy or Miss. Or at least I couldn’t. Towards the end of last year, I started to miss myself; I needed time to be me again. So now, every day I take 10 minutes out to learn Portuguese (I’d started before the pregnancy, but hadn’t gotten back in to it) and in a few weeks, I’ll start playing netball again.

I’ve accepted that I’ll probably make an arse of myself on the court: it has been 4 years since I last played. But I’ve been chatting with my new team and it turns out that we all feel the same and we’re all just up for having a giggle and seeing what happens. And if we’re really lucky we may even win a game… hopefully.

I’m only a week in and I have no idea if any of this will keep working, but I’m going to give it my best shot. This year I’m determined to thrive.