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Under Covid's Shadow

Goodness me, how is it July?
And HOW is my maternity leave over? Check the calendar…there must be an error…we must have missed a page.
But it’s over. It’s here.

Like many teacher parents ‘returning to work’ – whatever that looks like – my stomach has been doing a Simone Biles’ Olympic floor routine for the last few days now. Mostly because I don’t really know how I feel because I feel so many things.
Firstly, I feel a bit sad. A bit sad that this mystical, thrilling, horrendous, why-is-my-face-so-grey-oh-wait-I’ve-not-slept-for-six-months, year with my second daughter is coming to an end. For all of us, these last few months have been totally different to what we imagined. I inherited two more mouths to create endless snacks for: a furloughed husband and a blonde whirlwind without an open nursery. My dreams of walks in the sun, post-partum pilates classes and a purse bulging with coffee shop receipts ended up being just that…a dream! I wasn’t at work, but then no one else really was either. My students weren’t at school, but perhaps along with me they felt the strange unknown mixed with a huge sense of isolation. The last few months of their lives were not what they expected or planned for either. Like me, they have missed out or lost something they yearned for and looked forward to.
Secondly, I feel grateful. Oh so so grateful. I have not lost anyone to this terrible virus. I have cried A LOT, witnessing and feeling the loss of others, but this can never come close to the pain felt by those grieving for people they lost or didn’t get to say goodbye to. Perhaps like me my students feel grateful: I know those within my school have worked incredibly hard, putting in endless hours of support for students while juggling the demands of their own home. I am so grateful too, on the students’ behalf, for the way our schools have risen to the challenge of Covid: showing immense courage in doing live lessons or voice over explanations to send to students; calling parents to offer reassurance and support and the emails…OH THE EMAILS; and doing all this while their own children are at home, needing educating and perhaps struggling mentally too.
Finally, I feel ready. Ready for the chalkface once more. I feel so much more ready than I did the last time I returned to work, and there are a number of reasons for this.
I’ve been continuing with my MTPT Project and have been joyfully guzzling journal, book and blog articles about leadership, governance and school culture; and I’ve been reading around the set texts in my school and connecting with other educators online. This CPD journey has helped me to feel connected to education while I’ve been away, and I’ve ensured that anything I did for the project interested me and made me happy, so it’s been a JOY!
I’ve benefited from amazing coaching through the MTPT Project which has been life-changing. It’s something I had never really considered doing but it has been a real life-line in negotiating my wants and needs from my career. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone who feels a bit at sea about their career in education.
I’ve stayed connected to other fantastic women in education through @WomenEd and enjoyed following their journeys through the ranks to the leadership positions they thoroughly deserve. The book, 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead in Education, has been quietly resting on my heart throughout this maternity leave. I hope it stays there and gently leads me to my own position of leadership in the future.
Finally, I feel ready BECAUSE of these strange times. School will be different for everyone when September arrives and probably for the foreseeable future too, but we need our schools more than ever. For so many of our students over the last few months, school has continued to provide even the slightest hint of stability and normality. Teachers have been, and will continue to be, the grounding force for young people. We are the ones who will help our young people and their families navigate this new world. We will help them to articulate their thoughts about what has been, and what is to come. We will read the shadows of their inner dialogue in their exercise books, listen to their worries in the playground or manage the unspoken as we help to manage their behaviour.
So, to my two little girls, thank you for two wonderful maternity leaves and teaching me to leave the house without snacks at my peril.
And to all the parents heading back to work in 2020, let us never forget why we do this.

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The author

Deborah McClean is an English teacher in a large secondary school in South Gloucestershire. She has experience mentoring trainee teachers, leading EPQ in sixth form and leading whole school Literacy. Deborah has also recently been appointed as a School Governor for a specialist school for Autism in Bristol. During 2017-2018 Deborah took a period of maternity leave to care for her first daughter, Ivy. She is just about to finish her second maternity leave with Cora in 2020 in the shadow of COVID19. During her first maternity leave she published her first book: Almost There: Lessons from a Trainee Teacher - written for trainee teachers and NQTs. Deborah is also a poet and writer, with work published in the ezine Ink, Sweat and Tears. Deborah tweets between naps @TrainTeachGrow.

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