WomenEd Blogs

The journey we take and the plans that we make.


by Iseabal Fincher @FincherScience

 I’ve been reading a lot recently about women’s careers through the decades, the barriers we face as women and just how strong we can be. This has inspired me to share my journey. It is a long read so feel free to read the first and last paragraphs to get the flavour of it.

I’m 42 and according to Douglas Adams this means I am 'The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything'. In many ways I really do feel like this is true. I’ve reached an interesting point in my life where so many of the worries I had before seem insignificant. I have dreams and ambitions that are my own and I’ve made peace with my journey.

My journey started as it does for everyone as a teenager who thinks that they have all the answers without yet having all of the information. I had mapped out my life up to the point of graduation but had decided to see where it went from there. I struggled with student halls and bought a flat with my sister where I became her carer as she went through a particularly traumatic time in her life. I can remember GAMH (Glasgow Association for Mental Health) making regular visits and I couldn’t grasp why they were asking me what I needed and how they could help me. I was fine! The truth was I had no idea the weight I was carrying until nearly 12 years later.

My naivety shuttled me into a very speedy marriage to a uni friend to appease his dying mother who I cared for full time for ten years. I was isolated from friends and family, moved to the South of France and every aspect of my life was controlled. It was a cult. That is still difficult to say out loud as it sounds so ridiculous but it was a cult. She had undiagnosed significant mental illnesses and our lives were dictated by the voices in her head. I am still embarrassed and ashamed that the strong, confident, independent young woman I was, became taken in by her lies. That is how psychological abuse works. I had never heard of gas-lighting before and even now I catch myself thinking 'was it really that bad?' Yes it was.

In the midst of it all I was kept so busy I didn’t have time to think. My parents were limited to two visits of a few days each year. It was never suitable to have friends to come to visit, even for coffee and the punishment was swift and severe. My life was filled with giving myself in service as the dutiful daughter-in-law, living in constant fear that I would do something wrong. I had four children in six years who are still my joy and my purpose. Even my babies were taken by her as her own until they got too wilful.

My exit from this life was abrupt and unexpected. My ex husband had an affair with a woman 15 years his senior, I miscarried, haemorrhaged and had to be resuscitated (this is where I got my silver go faster stripes). A nominally civilised time after my recovery I was evicted from the house with the four children. He was going to leave but my mother-in-law recognised that without her son she wouldn’t be able to control me, so I had to go.

What followed were three months of trying desperately to find out who I was in my new role of single, homeless mother of four. The kindness of friends whom I barely knew saw us find shelter and warmth and one particular kind woman continues to be an inspiration to me.

Something happened. Something clicked. I began to put together the pieces of me that had been stolen. Just after I got married (when I still had some agency) I had applied and been accepted to teacher training college. I hadn’t taken my place as I had discovered that I was pregnant and decided to wait a few years. That was ten years and a different country and life ago. I had so many doubts and yet I knew this was what I was meant to do. It was my calling and my passion and I knew I would be good at it. I applied to Glasgow University to do PGDE in Biology and was accepted.

Within a month we were moving back to Scotland. My ex-husband threatened legal action (as advised by his girlfriend) as I was technically abducting my own children according to French law. Thankfully he didn’t pursue it further and we made a fresh start back in my hometown with my parents to support us.

Time went by very quickly and a new love appeared in my life. I got qualified in June and married again in July. It had been two years since I was kicked out and my life was back on track. The next four years consisted of me getting to grips with teaching, having a new baby and studying with the OU to top up my credits so I could become dual qualified. I was working hard to connect with and enthuse learners and make sure my own children were settled and thriving. I loved my job and worked in three high schools in the area before landing a job in my old high school near my parents. This was what I had been working towards. Next step was to stick in there and get the Principal Teacher (PT) post when my old physics teacher retired. This had been the idea in the back of my mind that I hadn’t dare say out loud but it had pulled me out of France, given me a goal and made me work my socks off. I just had to be patient.

Meanwhile, life had other plans, as often it does. In 2016 my lovely husband fell down a loft ladder and broke his femur and ankle. I rushed home from school and spent the next six hours waiting with him for ambulances to take him to a trauma unit. He was finally picked up and transported the 70 miles to the orthopaedic ward. He was scheduled for surgery to stabilise the leg in the morning. I sorted out school and the kids and drove up see him as he came back to the ward. Except he didn’t… There has been a complication and he was still in surgery. Several hours later he was out of the operating theatre but he had suffered fat embolism syndrome and was in a coma. I called my sister and she took the younger kids to stay with her as we wouldn’t be home for what turned out to be three weeks. My husband gradually came out of the coma (over days, not like on TV) but had suffered from significant brain injury and no one knew if he would ever regain full function. He came home a very different, angry and confused man. I was told that ‘recovery’ could take two years but there was a high probability that he would never fully recover. I’m so glad to say that he is better now. I don’t think that recovered is the right word as he is not the same man I married. He is different but still wonderful, kind and hilariously funny. He is still rediscovering lost parts of his brain four years later.

At work I began developing my leadership skills by taking part in every CPD activity I could and creating opportunities to show my skills. I travelled round the country and met inspirational leaders in education and technology. I developed teams at school and ran a pilot that eventually helped get G Suite for education added to Glow for use by schools across Scotland. I supported my science colleagues in developing moderation and more efficient systems for monitoring progress. I had put together all the pieces and when my PT announced his imminent retirement it was assumed (mostly but not just by me) that I would be the obvious choice for the job. I prepped and developed and started taking over responsibilities in the department. The post was advertised, and before I knew it the interview day arrived. Life decided this would be just too easy and the night before the interview my dad was rushed into hospital with heart problems. The morning of the interview one of my chickens died, and I was packing for a residential course that started that afternoon. Nothing shouts success like bagging up dead livestock in a suit while chucking hastily packed bags in the car. To top it all of my period started early and with a vengeance. But hey, this was ‘my job’ so it would all be fine. Spoiler… it wasn’t. The interview went as well as could be expected and I ran out of the school adrenalised and in a rush to drive the 90 miles to make it to my course on time. Hours went by and still no call from the school. I sat in the seminar room of a fancy hotel subtly checking my phone every few minutes. Still no call. I got an email at the end of the day, they decided not to appoint. The other candidate wasn’t familiar with the Scottish system but had more management experience. They would re-advertise. They did, I reapplied, I didn’t get it. I had failed.

My job went to a man (who is very nice) who ticked the right political boxes on paper and was better at interview: calmer; less passionate; less challenging. Recruitment in rural schools is tricky and gone are the days when internal applicants held any kind of advantage. My Head Teacher said to me “you’re young, you’ll have plenty of opportunities.” But in my head I was stuck.

This had been it. This is what had pulled me out of France and brought me back to life. This was MY job! I took on the post of Acting PT as the new post holder couldn’t come for six months. I put everything into it, not as an act of defiance but to prove to myself that I was worthy. I kicked ass in that job. I also was kicking my own ass and things started to unravel fast. My teens were hitting a rough patch and I had appointments every week with CAMHS, paediatricians, psychiatrists and GPs. I was reaching breaking point and even in the darkest days of abuse, divorce and tragedy, I had never been there before.

The thing I have noticed about having five children is they take turns with their traumatic episodes. As soon as one is stable another one starts to spiral and then the next and so on and so on. This is how we have rolled with schizophrenia, ADHD, self harm, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and bed wetting. They also take turns in absolutely flooring me with what amazing people they have become. They are engaged with the world around them, they are not afraid to help others. I am incredibly proud of them all and am so lucky to have the privilege to walk beside them as they take their own journeys.

When I finished my six months at the summer term I was heartbroken. My dreams, my purpose, my role in the school, my team had all been taken from me. I suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown. My back went into spasm and tore the ligaments. My mind was torn to pieces and I was unable to function. I had therapy: physio; talk; chemical and osteopathy and very slowly I began to heal. It wasn’t really about the job, but it was ALL about the job and I just couldn’t move past it. I decided the logical solution would be rather than trying to do it all, I would do less. I would focus on caring for my kids (both my own and my pupils) and I would prioritise my classroom teaching and put away those silly ambitions of leadership that I clearly wasn’t cut out for. After I returned to school my classes had all been changed and I was dealing with new classes that had a disproportionate number of challenging pupils. I felt that I had been robbed of my pupils. I knew it was a logical decision ensuring continuity of teaching for exam classes but logic doesn’t stop the hurt. I made it through the first few months and felt myself fall deeper and deeper into depression.

My medication was allowing me to function but my lack of forward motion was eating away at my soul. I was fuggy and slow and frustrated with myself. I started applying for other jobs in the hope that being somewhere new would stop the daily humiliation. I got interviews but just couldn’t bring myself to really care, which came across as casual and too relaxed.

Which brings us to the start of COVID-19 lockdown.

For the three days before the schools closed I was running class to class making sure staff and pupils had their login details and knew how to access online classes. Nobody else in the school had completed training and they were not able to share the load. It was a chaotic time and I don’t think that anyone realised just how important distance learning would be in this new ‘normal’. Most staff were focused on the cancellation of exams. And then we were sent home.

Being at home with my children was surprising therapeutic, I became aware that it felt very much like I was driving with the brakes on and made the decision to try coming off my medication.I also made the decision to stop asking for permission and that was truly liberating.

Within the first week I had set up a staff class to support use of Google Classroom with tutorials and resources, then a staff social group with community fundraising quizzes. Then I created an entire registration system from classroom to data analysis. I started making websites to improve parental contact and pupil engagement. I offered my services to the digital hub and delivered webinars to the whole authority. I was providing solutions, I was being challenged, I felt useful and I had purpose.

I also started looking outward, applying for new jobs that interest me rather than being an escape, doing my own online learning about our most vulnerable children (through FutureLearn) and taking more of an active role on Twitter. I got involved with a few groups of supportive, ambitious, inspirational women including @WomenEd and their campaign to be 10% braver. They have inspired me and helped me to reignite my flame.

I am discovering who I am, just how capable I am and how to be braver. How to drown out the voices telling me to sit down and be quiet because they are afraid of change or are threatened by my enthusiasm. I have made peace with my journey but not with my future. I have become Beale in the 1976 film ‘Network’. 'I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!' Hopefully as I’m yelling through the rain, I can get other people to join me.

Together we can change the world for the better. Together we can truly work for the people that matter the most: Our Children, Their Future

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Moving on
Nearly Full circle


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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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