Nearly Full circle

 by Amy Carson @TitchyDitch

I feel as though a wound has finally started healing.

Nearly 3 years ago I was approaching the end of my maternity leave. I wasn't happy about it; I was unsure about what it would mean about me as a mother if I returned to work up, I didn’t know how I would cope with working and parenting, how would my mental health fare? As for all people returning to work after an extended period and a life-change I was afraid and had many questions. I decided a good halfway house as I navigated this new duality of mother/ teacher was to return to work part-time in the first instance, so as to have time to find my feet.

At the time I was a HoD on maternity leave. In the two years prior to having my daughter I had successfully led the department from the worst results we had seen in a long time under my predecessor 57% to 81 % A * -C, amongst other successes. My tenure as HOD had been a positive one. I figured that returning to my role on a p/t basis would be fine, I had a proven track  record, I had been very successful, I was in a good position to negotiate. I was wrong. My request was not considered. If I wanted to be p/t I had to step down from my position as HoD.

I don't remember much of the detail of the conversations that took place during that time but I do remember that at no point did anyone in my line management chain talk to me about what I wanted from my career moving forward. I do remember that my decision to work part - time was seen as me having hung up my leadership hat, that clearly, I no longer had any ambition. Had someone asked me what my ambitions were, I'm not sure what I'd have answered, but it would have been nice to be asked and it would have been nice to have someone hold my hand, guide and coach me through the return to work process.

What I do know is that I was deeply vulnerable at that time. I was in the process of becoming this new version of me, in a sense I was shedding and growing a new skin, I was delicate, I was fragile, I was vulnerable. And instead of being guided, supported and held, I was wounded.

I feel very wounded by my demotion. Although a psychological wound it feels very visceral to me. I had some coaching with Naomi Ward recently and I described it as feeling as if there was a red raw scar around this issue that I hadn't yet really dealt with. I talked with Naomi about betrayal, how I felt betrayed by those in my line management chain who didn't support me in my desire to return to work as a leader working flexible hours. But worst of all I felt betrayed by myself as, as far as I was concerned, I should have fought harder, I mean I pretty much just accepted it, I let it happen. I did not fight back. I still feel a deep sense of shame about that, it is something I acknowledge and am working on. But at the minute I do still feel shame for not fighting that decision.

What I haven't hold you yet is that I was a union rep, in fact I had very recently been made Secretary for our local association. I think that made the feelings of shame worse, of all the people who ‘should have’ been able to advocate for flexible working at a middle leadership leve, it should have been me, right?

What I’m making peace with is that it shouldn’t have been down to me as an individual, one who was going through significant life changes to have this battle. That in fact there should have been no battle to have. That the school should already have had the systems in place to enable and support me in working flexibly. I’m not sure I will ever fully make peace with the feelings of shame I have around this, but I do know the sting of it has eased and I am finally moving forward.

Unfortunately for me at the time I didn’t have the role models that I do now in the form of the #Women Ed community. In fact, I think I came across #WomenEd shortly after being demoted, when I was feeling this deep sense of injustice, and holding this belief that there must be another way.

I came across #WomenEd and #MTPT Project at the same time. I immediately booked tickets to the 2018 #WomenEd unconference and took my young daughter and mother (also a teacher) with me. My union paid for me to go; the TES Institute paid for a creche at the event so I could attend. I left that event so fired up and enthused, I booked a meeting with my Headteacher the following week. Ahead of that meeting I had my first wonderful coaching conversation with Naomi Ward. When I met with my Headteacher (he had joined the school after my demotion so he didn’t know of me as HoD) I told him my story, I laid out my store, told him of my previous success, told him I felt under-valued, under-utilised, that I was getting itchy for something else, he appeared to listen and take it on board. However, nothing changed, no opportunities came my way, no one asked me what my aspirations were. I grew frustrated. I started looking around and came across a job advert I was interested in. I had a tour of the school, I liked what I saw, the HoF was a #WomenEd network leader!

I applied, I interviewed, I got the job. I started at that school in Sept 2019 and have since successfully applied for an internal promotion to HoF of a newly formed Faculty.

I lost so much confidence after being demoted and through coaching I've come to see that the demotion wasn't about me or how good I was at the job, it was about an inflexible and old-fashioned approach to how people 'should' work. It's nice to have some of that confidence return, although I do feel sad for my 'lost years'.

I feel like I am finally starting to deal with some of the shame I hold about that period in my life, that I am getting my voice back, coaching has been the catalyst for that. I’ve approached my new Headteacher about getting involved with the #MTPT Project, to which he has positively responded, so I’m looking forward to pursuing that further. I now want to help ensure other new parents, but in particular mothers, don’t get the raw deal that I did. I feel this very strong call to do this work for new mother/teachers, but that stems from my own lived experience and sense of injustice. In reality it isn’t about parenthood at all, it should be about the opportunity to work flexibly for anyone who wants to for whatever reason but that’s a rant for another blog I think.

During her session at #WomenEd 2019 unconference earlier this year Emma Turner said this: “Don’t wait to find the gap in the system, make it”.  I didn’t feel strong enough after my maternity leave to make that gap, but with strong women and #HeForShe supporters around me I feel ready to help make gaps in the system so our new flexible workers of the future don’t have to. This is my #10perCentBraver

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