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Workingmums.co.uk is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and we have been talking to parents who have got jobs through our site to see how it worked out.
One person who says her life has changed for the better as a result of applying for one of our job adverts is Lisa Bell. She spoke to Workingmums just before the publication of a report recommending that schools implement flexible working in order to retain teachers after they have children and the announcement that the Department for Education is setting up a job share site and mentoring scheme to help women teachers back to work after having children. Her story shows why these are crucial issues for the teaching profession.
Lisa qualified as a secondary school teacher of geography in 2002 and has worked in different schools in the state and independent sector across England and Wales.
A few years ago, before she had children, she and her partner moved to North Wales with his job. Following six months as maternity cover, Lisa had been working as a supply teacher as it was hard to find a permanent job because she didn’t speak Welsh. Feeling disillusioned with supply work, she had taken a job as a heritage assistant when her oldest son Dylan was born six years ago. Her husband then lost his job and she had to return to teaching earlier than expected.
She got a job in Rutland covering sick leave for six months. The family then moved to Bishop’s Stortford where Lisa took up a full-time teaching post in an independent day and boarding school. That involved teaching six days a week as there were lessons on Saturday mornings. “It was pretty full on,” says Lisa. “The days were long and there were a lot of extracurricular activities.”
She was there when she had her second son Isaac and went on maternity leave. After he was born she suffered from post-natal depression. Partly because of financial reasons and partly due to the nature of the school, she felt under pressure to return more quickly than she wanted to. After six months’ leave she was back to an intense job where she felt she needed to “hit the ground running”. “The minute I went back I felt I had to be all guns blazing,” says Lisa, “and initially the school was not at all flexible.”
It was too much for her. “Something had changed between my first and second child. With Dylan I went back earlier and found it quite rewarding and didn’t find work life balance so hard, but something changed in the whole dynamics with two children. I felt I was not doing anything well. I was like a rabbit in headlights, juggling too many balls. I expected to do everything well and I got very stressed when I felt I wasn’t doing that. My partner and I decided something had to change,” says Lisa.
Her partner took another job then found a post in the Isle of Wight. The family moved in April 2014. Lisa didn’t want to do anything initially. She wanted time with Isaac as she felt she had missed out.
She had six months off and then started looking for jobs as she had been the main earner and family finances were low. However, Lisa felt depressed at the prospect of going back to teaching. “I felt I had got my fingers burnt. I was very cautious,” she says. “It’s a shame as I loved teaching. It was just the amount of work I had to take home and the things outside teaching. I felt teaching almost got in the way which is the wrong way round. It left me with a nasty feeling. I felt lost as I had trained to be a teacher and done that for 13 years. I tried to think outside the box about my skills and looked at jobs where I could use my teaching skills, but not have to be in a school.”
She came across Workingmums.co.uk as she was searching for flexible working that could fit around her family life. “The time they are young is so fleeting,” she says. “I wanted the best of both worlds, but I wasn’t sure it existed.”
Then an advert for Oxford Open Learning came up on Workingmums.co.uk. Lisa applied and got the job. She started last April as a distance learning tutor. She teaches Key Stage three and IGSCE geography to homeschooled children around the world and some adult learners. She inducts them and gets them to understand their coursework, assists them if they get stuck and with the fieldwork element of their courses, helps with exam revision and marks assignments. This is done via Skype, email and phone. Lisa has students in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, Thailand, Venezuela, twins in South Africa and several in Europe, including students at tennis academies in Spain and a student who is an extreme sports athlete and studies geography in between kite surfing and cliff jumping.
Many of the international students have parents who work abroad or travel. In the UK many of her students are being homeschooled due to bullying or anxiety. Others have learning difficulties or challenging behaviour.
Lisa says the job is very satisfying. She builds a very individual rapport with the children which she wasn’t able to do with a class of 30, and can see their progress. “There is not a bit of what I do now that I dislike,” she says. She also has time to write educational resources which she used to do until her school work got too much for her.
She can set her own hours and work very flexibly. At the moment she works school hours four days a week while Isaac, now three, is at nursery and Dylan is at school. She doesn’t earn as much as she did as a secondary school teacher, but says she cannot compare how much happier she is now. “It’s not just about the money,” says Lisa. “We are comfortable. I live in a beautiful place and our lifestyle is very laid back. I am healthier – I used to get endless chest infections before and was run down. I’m a happier person and a happier mum. Thank-you Workingmums.”