Dad holding toddler up in the air.

This blog is reproduced here with permission.

Written by Michael Nott @MrNott117 on his blog stealingbiscuitsiswrong? on 26th April 2022.


Monday morning is always the hardest.

I sit on my 7am train bleary eyed, looking at photographs of my son from the weekend just gone. I think about how I won’t get to see him again for another 12 hours and all the little laughs and smiles that I will miss along the way.

I’ve got an SLT meeting first thing, then Year 11 twice and then Year 10 and then a line management meeting, and then finally another SLT meeting before wearily I’ll board the train back home.

Becoming a dad for the first time has been fantastic, but it has also led me to feeling much more stressed about work than I was previously. In fact, the last time I found myself feeling this anxious about work was in those first two years of my Teach First placement, when children were setting fire to the carpet in my classroom and chairs were being flung across my desk. Fatherhood has made it a real struggle to juggle being on top of my workload and being a visible and supportive senior leader at school.

Everything about fatherhood is new to me, on the day my son was born my life changed forever. Suddenly, I was responsible for this very tiny thing, in the blink of an eye, someone else became the centre of my universe.

A lot has been written on social media recently about why we choose to teach. I hate the idea that the job is a vocation, as typically I’ve seen this ideology used as a way of launching initiatives that are crippling and unsustainable. But right now, my reason for being a teacher is purely down to the fact that I need to support my family financially. I still believe in the transformative power of education. But really, in the here and now, my family is my priority, nothing else.

However, that line of thinking is not without its consequences. I am constantly overcome with a tremendous sense of guilt. Should I have left work at 4pm this week, so I could get back in the light and go for a walk with my son and girlfriend? But how will I catch up on my mock marking if I do? Can I really justify not coming in during the holidays for a revision class? This guilt is then matched with a sense that I’m failing as a father. That I’m missing out on these moments with my son, that I will never get back. I ask myself; will I miss his first words or his first steps because I’m in a department meeting?

Ultimately, this guilt has led me to ask myself, whether it’s possible to be a good father and a good teacher/senior leader? And I’m not alone, Dr Emma Kell’s study into the impact of parenthood on teaching found that 40% of men reported a deterioration in their performance after becoming a father.

Teaching is a very inflexible profession. We all have timetables that we must follow every day, and that’s fair enough, I’m not asking to teach my Year 10 class from my living room, but are there other ways in which we could be more flexible? Because right now it feels as though the rigidity of the teaching profession is setting up parents to fail, either at home, or in the classroom.

Yes, we have a lot of holidays, but I’m sure that I’m not alone, when I say that I’d gladly swap some of that time, for a more flexible attitude to work and home life.

So, what can we do to bridge those gaps and make the profession more parent friendly?

Firstly, it is imperative that we allow parents to spend time with their families. I was entitled to 10 days paid paternity leave as a new father, which is quite frankly insulting. Those first 10 days were a chaotic blur of sleepless nights and days spent in pyjamas, whilst stuck in the perpetual motion of changing nappies. Those first 10 days should just be a given. The idea that after 10 measly days I was expected to come back to work as though nothing had ever happened is laughable. Nothing maintains toxic gender norms like telling the father he must go to work and provide, whilst the mother stays home and looks after the baby and the United Kingdom is some way behind countries like Spain, France, Bulgaria, and Sweden, when it comes to paternity leave. Spain offers fathers 16 weeks paid paternity leave, whilst France offers 28 days.

Secondly, schools need to be more flexible when it comes to how operations, particularly meetings run. Why do I need to be in the school building for meetings that could take place virtually? If people want to, let them go home for these sessions. Let them wear tracksuit bottoms and have a cup of tea, whilst they sit on their sofa. The notion that we must be in the building we work in to be productive is antiquated and quite frankly insulting. This same idea also extends to parents evening. I see very little reason as to why these cannot continue to be virtual.

Finally, allow staff time off in the school day. Obviously, you cannot frequently request time off when you are teaching. But ensuring staff can go to events that are important to them, can only be a good thing for wellbeing and morale. This flexibility should also extend, where appropriate to working hours. Does any meeting really need to happen before 8am or after 5pm?

For too long the teaching profession has not put its staff and their lives first. A chocolate bar in a pigeonhole or a pastry in the staff room is meaningless if you are stopping staff from spending precious time with their families. Teaching is not a particularly appealing career right now, we are once again in the midst of another recruitment crisis with 91% of teachers reporting that the job has had a negative impact on their mental health in the last 12 months, and with so many other professions embracing changes in the wake of working from home, I believe it is time the teaching profession finally started too.