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Being a parent and a teacher

Patricia McKinnon discusses the pain (and pleasure) of being a probationer teacher and a parent.

Home Economics Teacher, Vale of Leven Academy, West Dumbartonshire

When I first sat down to write about the highs and lows of being both a probationer teacher and a parent I had to think . . . what are the highs?

There is no denying that this is a demanding year for all probationers. It's also perhaps fair to say that being a parent can be difficult enough without the added stress of being in a job where you have this long period of being "on trial".

Without the support of my mum, I would never have embarked on this choice of career. I have an 8 year old son, Euan, and if I had to worry about childcare issues every day I would be unable to focus on my teaching.

Lessons in guilt

There is a double-edged guilt that comes from working full time when you have a young family. Leaving school I see the younger, child-free teachers working diligently on their lesson preparation.

By the time Euan and I have gone through our evening routine of homework, dinner, packed lunches, Cubs/judo, bath and bedtime reading, I am drained and find it almost impossible to begin working on my lessons.

I sometimes feel I am doing my pupils a disservice. But it has to be done and I attempt to do as much of it as I can in school.

One of my fellow probationers told me that she goes to bed at the same time as her kids, and then gets up very early in the morning to prepare for school. She also said that cutting back on caffeine has helped her to remain relatively stress free.

Talking it over

Having someone to talk to about my day helps me to unwind. My mum, a retired English teacher, fits the bill perfectly.

However, as she pointed out to me, after a few weeks of gushing forth as soon as I came in the door, Euan had been waiting impatiently for me to arrive so he could tell me about his day. He would interrupt and act up while I spoke to my Mum.

When I thought about it, I could actually identify with this as I remember feeling resentful of the children my mum spent her days with while I was still in primary school and she taught in secondary school.

A more tolerant parent

It's not all bad news. I believe that as a mother I have a greater sympathy and understanding of my pupils than I otherwise would.

A sort of sixth sense seems to guide me to prevent me from making precarious situations worse with some of my more challenging pupils.

I am also convinced that teaching has helped me to be a better, more tolerant parent.

And, last but not least, what other job can guarantee that you will always have the same holidays as your children? Although you will have to pay top whack to travel abroad at peak times, would you rather have two weeks of rest and four weeks of frantic child care arrangements? I don't think so.