REFLECTIONS ON MY JOURNEY AS A TEACHER MUM
At the end of August 2021, I started a one-year career break away from my university role to be more present when my youngest starts secondary school and to write a third book without the pressure of working full-time.
I am now half-way through said sabbatical and I want to share with you some of my learning and findings on this journey as a teacher parent.
WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU DO THAT?
Why have I chosen to do this when I’ve always been a full-time working mum? Why would I hop off the hamster wheel when I have always been an educator and been in the system?
First, I acknowledge my position of privilege and how lucky I am to be able to do this. I realise many other mums or dads might not be able to leave their job for 1 year.
When my eldest started secondary school in England, it felt a bit like standing on the edge of the harbour, watching him get on board a cruise liner and waiving him off on his journey into secondary education, without much of my input. I felt powerless. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we want our young people to become more and more independent as they age and go through the education system. But it’s such a drastic change from primary school.
I also felt that the secondary school was much more ‘business like’ than the primary school and it felt like it had less of a soul. This is not a criticism of said school, I think this is true of many secondary schools. It seems to me that when our children reach the teenage years, we expect them to behave much more like adults and forget the power of true playfulness and fun which comes from being in a state of flow that many of our children will have experienced in their younger years.
There were also my own personal reasons – after almost 2 years of doing hybrid teaching – online and in the classroom as well as managing the French language provision during Covid, I felt that my tank was completely empty, and I needed to fill it up again. After all, I keep saying that we can’t pour from an empty cup… It was time to practice what I preach.
MY CONCERNS AS A TEACHER-MUM
With my eldest I didn’t feel too worried because I know that he is very academic (meaning that he fits in well in the current model of education system). It’s not the same for my youngest who needs more time to process things, to understand. He needs a slower pace to truly grasp concepts. What would happen if he couldn’t follow the pace set by the cruise-liner?
I worried that he might be one of those who fall overboard and doesn’t even get a buoyancy aid. I worried that he might even sink, develop a huge hatred for learning and curiosity. What if this also affected his wellbeing and his self-esteem and self-worth.
Through the interviews on the Flourishing podcast, I know that sadly too many who have fallen into the water, not been rescued and the cruise-liner has continued its journey forward, not worrying about them. I didn’t want this to happen to him. My conversations with the lovely Meena Wood MBA Ed Leadership, FRSA have taught me that in fact one third of our young people in England fall overboard as described above and leave secondary education without any qualifications.
So one of my motivators for this career was not only to support my son through his transition. It was also for me to also start flourishing again.
Little did I know that in fact, my youngest would, beside a few ups and downs, do just fine but that I would be de-registering my eldest from mainstream education and start home educating him.
OUR BREAK-UP WITH THE SYSTEM
3 months later, I feel that I can reflect a bit more on our experience.
As an educator, I broke up with the system and started my own journey into ‘deschooling’. I watch my colleagues get on just fine without me as the captain of the cruise-liner. It turns out that the co-captain can do a wonderful job. I already knew this of course, that’s the reason why I suggested that we recruited internally to cover for my role. It was good for my ego though. A humbling reminder of what my grandad used to say to me when I was an obnoxious teenager: ‘see all these people in the cemetery, they too thought they were indispensable. I’ll be honest – breaking up with the system and becoming a home educator wasn’t easy – like all change, it requires acceptance. I have spent many dark nights as they say and many days literally crying. It felt like a ‘break-up’ with the system, and I had to sit with the emotions and to process them.
After all, I was part of ‘the system’ for over 20 years. I was trying to change it from within and taking my son out of the mainstream education system felt strange and very uncomfortable.
I felt isolated and I am grateful for all the amazing people I had met in my previous interviews for the Flourishing podcast as they were such a great source of support. The home education community is truly amazing and so supportive.
I also felt that the shutters from the mainstream system went up – I was now an outsider and I know our decision upset a few fellow educators who did not understand why we didn’t encourage our son ‘to push on’ and felt that we weren’t teaching him how to ‘build resilience’ (their words).
But the truth is that I couldn’t watch my eldest lose his spark, his passion for learning and his intrinsic motivation and innate curiosity because he wasn’t enjoying being at school. I can’t write books about flourishing education and not enable my own child to thrive.
So, the journey hasn’t been plain sailing, but it’s brought us closer as a family, has empowered to learn more about being a self-directed learner and to meet amazing new people and create a new community and tribe for ourselves.
I am not sure what the rest of the journey looks like. It may not go back to my old job – I am not sure yet. We are also talking about de-registering our youngest too and to become a fully home educating family in September 2022. There are plans to build a teenager hub in Bristol.
One thing I am certain though – is that it has made the fire in my belly – this passion to see change in education even stronger. Before Covid, I never questioned why I sent my children to school. I just did. I needed the childcare so that I could go and work.
Now, I see things completely differently. I firmly believe that as parents, we intuitively know our children best, and we know what they need. If we allow ourselves to push past the fear and to listen to our hearts, we will know very clearly what we need to do next. If our children are not happy in school, it’s important that we ask ourselves why. We don’t all have to de-register them, and home educate them, but we have a right to ask questions and to decide if they education they are receiving is adapted to their needs.
We don’t have to hand over our children and to put them on the cruise-liner and watch them voyage off into the deep seas as we stand on the edge. We, parents, can come together and we can create a ‘harbour’ or ‘port’ – a network that enables us to communicate more effectively with the cruise liner, its staff and leaders as well as the young people onboard to ensure that everyone is flourishing.
Too ambitious? Impossible? Some may think so but I believe it’s possible to change things and to make this a reality for ALL.
If this resonates with you and you want to hear more – join our Guild – a network of parents/carers, teachers/educators, young people and employers who want to create a new education culture to nurture a responsible, respectful, loving and humane society.
I look forward to meeting you.