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‘There IS more to life than teaching’. Deborah was thriving as a teacher but it wasn’t until she become a mum she realised that being a teacher was all she was. She writes how teaching is her passion, of course, but she can also have dreams, hobbies and free time.

As I locked up my classroom for the last time in July 2017, I knew this summer was going to be different. I knew that when I returned, I would be different too.

I lay on the sofa, like I always do, for a few days after I finish the Summer term: exhausted, HOT (remember how hot it was?), and reflective. This year had been different: I’d felt pangs of disappointment in those last few weeks. Knowing I wouldn’t be there to try out the latest teaching technique, knowing I couldn’t teach that new novel or be part of the new policies being brought in. I was going to…dare I say it..miss school.

Then 7 days later, I had a baby.

The thing about having a baby when you’re a teacher, is that no one tells you what it’s REALLY like. The same as a woman from ANY profession. Our rank and hierarchy, our skills and attributes, our expertise and understanding of children – none of this matters at 3am when you feel TOTALLY alone – except there is a small screaming animal there too.

So September came and I wasn’t a  teacher anymore. I don’t really know who or what I was. But what I did know, was that I was really REALLY glad I wasn’t at school. I was just SO TIRED!

I have totally committed more than a decade of my life to education in all its forms: both paid and voluntary. And within that time there has been nothing else. Sitting at home on that September morning, when I knew that first bell had been ringing, I realised that apart from teaching- I didn’t have anything else – until now.

I know a lot of amazing women in education, those who have committed their lives to other people’s children. But my worry is that for them, that is often all they have. And until you reach a point like me, where you have decided to start a family or adopt or do some other, huge, life-changing thing, you perhaps don’t realise that in all the planning and talking and teaching and coaching, you have forgotten about yourself.

I heard a quote recently that really struck me. And it’s something I really want to try and live out for my daughter: ‘We show our children what to seek in life’. I know what I have been seeking: outstanding lesson observations, top exam results and cared for, supported children. But now, as I return to my classroom in September, I hope I am changed in that I know that there IS more to life than teaching.

I want to seek life in all its forms, inside the classroom, yes – I will never lose the committed, conscientious me who gets a huge thrill from teaching my favourite novel, or seeing a child finally master a new skill – but I also want to seek life experiences outside of the classroom too. I want to get into nature and show my daughter the joy in nature, away from the busyness of city noise; I want to seek joy in literature and film – away from set-texts and exam syllabi. I want to pursue more than my occupation, yet still remain true to one of my life’s callings: to teach. I think I have another, more important calling now.

Schools now feel very different than they used to: “It’s about PROGRESS!” “PROVE that teaching method works.” “Where is your EVIDENCE to back that up?” “Run a lunchtime session.” “Can you do after school revision this year: it worked last year.” “No of course we can’t pay you for that!” Teachers are the first to shout about schools being ‘exam factories’ and new testing styles ‘stealing the joy from learning’. But yet we sit at 11pm tweeting about our lessons for tomorrow or whatsapping pictures of our piles of books to each other. Have we ourselves also become part of this exam factory? The stress and panic about results filtering down into our 3am musings, and the constant pressure being allowed to put a strain on our hearts and relationships?

Where do we fit here? It’s easy for me to be reflective like this: with my babe on my knee, surrounded by soft toys instead of tatty exercise books. But the distance I have had has made me reflect, and I mean REALLY reflect, on the ‘teacher-me’ and what I am showing my daughter, and those I teach, what to ‘seek in life.’

So when I’m back in the fray, I am challenging myself not to forget the me this year who realised she had no hobbies. Who realised she rarely had a work-free weekend. Who realised her living room had become a working office. Who realised that I couldn’t show my daughter what to seek in life…unless she was a teacher.

Don’t forget: some children see YOU as the parent-figure in their life; this can happen without us even knowing or realising it. Consider who you are, and what you are showing them to ‘seek in life’. Don’t forget that you too can have dreams, ambitions and goals – it shouldn’t just be children who pursue these. It often takes us until adulthood to really unpick what we want and who we are.

Keep seeking.

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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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