Aside from teaching, I can think of few jobs where everyone takes their holiday at the same time. On the last day of term schools empty themselves of pupils and teachers and (although the latter will undoubtedly devote some time to schoolwork over the holidays) when the new term rolls around, nothing will have happened at school while we were all away.
As someone who hates missing things, this works well for me, but it made the idea of going on maternity leave a very scary prospect. I would be at home, while everyone else carried on planning and teaching and marking. There would be meetings missed, policies changed, new staff becoming familiar and colleagues moving on. More unsettling still, my A Level students would turn into university students while I was off and the new intake would have no idea who I was.
Of course, by the time I reached my maternity leave I was tired and slow oh-so-ready to do nothing more in a day than a little gentle antenatal yoga or meet up with my antenatal class for lunch. And once Quibble had arrived, there was very little space left in my mind to worry about the things I might be missing at work.
With both Quibble and Squeak, I returned from my maternity leave in the middle of the school year. I was excited to get back, ready to use my brain again and looking forward to interacting with children whose toilet habits were not my responsibility. Having not taught them for a year, I found that some lessons seemed very out of date, so I planned something new. Old worksheets bored me and so I revamped them. The dull Rites of Passage topic that I’d always hated was given a complete overhaul into an exciting term-long creative group project. All those improvements made the lessons more interesting and the pupils were noticeably more engaged.
I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner, but then I looked around at my colleagues. After a long hard winter term getting all their classes started, they had endured a weeks of report-writing and parents’ evenings, capped off with January exams. They had gone into a sort of survival mode, doing what they knew would work, but without the time or energy to do yet more work.
And every other year, that had been me, too. But twice now, I have been able to attack the second half of the school year with the same energy as we give to the first half and my students have felt the benefit. A year out gave me the perspective and freshness to improve my teaching. It is almost worth having another baby in a few years to inject more excitement… No not quite. But I really hope one of my colleagues will be going on maternity leave soon.