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Navigating Flexible Working and Professional Growth

by Gemma Molyneux @GHOEnglish

The anxiety of taking a career break to extend parental leave is exacerbated by the belief that a gap in work history will be a setback to future success. 

In the same way, achieving temporary flexibility can also feel like stepping 'back' or 'down' from your career. There's a myth that you have to make a choice between career or family – and whichever you choose, you're going to feel some sort of guilt, especially if you're a mother.

I have learnt to see it in a different way. 

I hope that by sharing my journey I can help others to re-frame a career diversion as an opportunity for reflection and growth towards a more meaningful future.

The decision not to return to work after maternity leave had been a fairly straightforward one. Amidst the chaos of 2020, a year marked by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband and I (both teachers) found ourselves at a crossroads: expecting our second child; juggling the care of our one-year-old; and grappling with the uncertainty of childcare during a time when a fever meant 7 days isolating – just in case. 

On top of that, I recognised that my school was facing significant challenges which interfered with my ability to make a meaningful impact. Ordinarily, I would've considered a move, but it wasn't the right time.

Nevertheless, after a few months of baby bliss, I started to have major FOMO (fear of missing out). As a middle leader and literacy coordinator, I had been on a traditional career trajectory, taking gradual steps forward and adding skills and experience along the way. My career break started to feel like I was standing on the far side of a widening chasm with everything I had achieved still on the other side, fading into irrelevance.

I began to panic.

As this panic began to bubble up into bewilderment, I decided to attend my first MTPT Project Coffee Morning. Not only did I find solace in other parent-teachers going through similar career confusion, but I was also presented with a route forward: The MTPT Project Accreditation and Coaching package.

The coaching I received from founder, Emma Sheppard, was pivotal. For anyone reading this who isn't familiar with coaching, to put it simply: a coach helps you think. Whilst I blurted out every contradictory thought that was racing through my mind, Emma listened intently, noticing, giving feedback, and asking the right questions. Instead of being distracted with thoughts of what I was missing, I was beginning to gain clarity on what I wanted next and how my extended parental leave could be an opportunity to develop myself in that direction whilst working flexibly.

I started by signing up for an MA in Education: Coaching and Mentoring.This reflected the aspects of my role that I had enjoyed the most and was a way to fulfill the need for challenge. It also prevented me from panic-applying to full-time jobs by giving me a set period of 2 years to commit to working flexibly. To apply my learning in the real world, I found a flexible role as a visiting tutor for an ITT provider and began a practical coaching qualification.

Networking with the MTPT project community also presented me with an unexpected opportunity to work with Jenny Webb at Funky Pedagogy. In this unique role, I am able not only to develop new skills but also to collaborate with a fellow parent-teacher who is exceptionally creative and remarkably successful, which is a constant reminder of what is possible.

I haven't completely left my wonderful subject, English, at the school gates either. I still tutor most evenings, which has provided me with the opportunity to broaden my expertise across exam specifications and stages. Teaching bespoke lessons 1-1 really provides the opportunity to work on students' skills at the microscopic levels using all the literacy specialist knowledge I thought was falling into the abyss.

Now, as I begin year two of my MA, I am excited by the prospect of returning to more regular work next academic year. I have focused my energy on the aspects of my teaching career that I loved the most and developed my skills further in those areas. 

The anxiety of being left behind has dissipated because I feel like I have made myself competitive in my areas of interest. The career break has given me control over the way I am developing myself; I am making intentional steps towards my next role so that I'm not looking for something that fits with my expertise but am creating my expertise to fit where I want to be.

The opportunity to take the time to pause and reflect on your career can be empowering. 

Parental leave can provide the space to do this if we let go of the belief that it's a setback. 

The MTPT Project brings together a community that can support and inspire those on this reflective journey; it's full of parent-teachers who have found their way through this period of unrest into a deeper understanding of their career goals and how to achieve them, even when the path is less trodden.

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Wednesday, 29 May 2024

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