“I sometimes think we try to second guess our children’s feelings about us working”
Tracy Hayes is a teacher in Belfast, lifestyle and fashion blogger at Pink Mum, wife and mother.
Thank you for contributing to the series Tracy – could you tell me a bit about your family?
I have one son Robbie aged nine and he obviously lives at home but I am also step-mother to 32-year-old Richard, a solicitor in London, 28-year-old Ruth, a speech therapist, and 25-year-old Gareth who works in fashion PR for House of Fraser, both also in London.
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
For the past 23 years I have been a full-time teacher in Ashfield Girls’ High School in Belfast. I began my career teaching English and Spanish but have since moved into Media and Moving image, of which I am Head of Department. I am also a member of the Senior Leadership Team and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator.
What kind of hours do you work?
I have always worked full-time – my official working hours are from 8.40 to 3.20 each day but that is never the case! It is a myth that us teachers only work from 9 until 3! I try to leave by 4pm on the days I don’t have meetings to avoid some of the traffic. I will also have evening events at school throughout the year.
Once Robbie goes to bed, I’ll start doing another couple of hours of marking and preparation but when coursework deadlines are looming, or reports need writing, this could run into the early hours of the morning!
Do you have the option to work part-time?
The Education Authority does offer teachers the opportunity to avail of Flexible Working Arrangements and a growing number of my colleagues have opted for this, working two or three days but it’s not something I have requested as yet. After a period of long-term illness in the past, I had a phased return to work period whereby I built up gradually over four weeks to full time working again. However, I found that on the days I wasn’t in school, I was still responding to school emails and making phone-calls, which really defeated the purpose of being at home. I find it difficult to ‘switch off’ when not in school – except during holidays of course – and have even been known to ‘teach’ my class via loud-speaker on an iPhone!
What kind of childcare do you use?
Robbie has been cared for by our childminder Donna since he was 10 months old and she is a complete Godsend! She goes above and beyond what is expected of a childminder and Robbie is treated like one of the family. It helps that she lives two doors up and we are now at the stage where I can see Robbie off at the front door and watch him walk up her path and in the door. Both my husband’s parents have passed away, my mum lived in England and my father 35 miles away so we’ve never had the luxury of grandparents looking after Robbie.
Having a reliable childminder makes going out to work so much easier and it helps that she is so flexible-picking Robbie up from after school clubs and dropping him off at other activities. When my husband and I worked together and had to attend the same school events in the evenings, Donna was always willing to keep Robbie for a few extra hours and even now, if we both need to be at school on the same night, she is very accommodating. She is honestly worth her weight in gold and is worth every penny – and then some.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
I do manage to have some ‘me-time’ although quite often it turns out to be ‘us-time’ which I also thoroughly enjoy. Some days after school, Lex and I will pick up Robbie from Donna’s and the three of us will go for coffee/hot chocolate before coming home to start the juggling of doing homework (Robbie), marking homework (me!), preparing tea and general washing up and other household chores. I find it’s a good way to unwind after a busy day and an opportunity for us all to chat about our day. I also find writing my family and lifestyle blog – www.pinkmum.blogspot.co.uk – is a good way of relaxing and focusing on something which isn’t work related.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
I like to think that I have quite a good work/life balance most of the time but at certain times, work definitely takes over. The day that I plan to leave school on time will be the same day that someone phones with a query about a pupil’s special need and I find myself running late for pick up. We are lucky in that both my husband and I work in education and therefore have the same school holidays as Robbie, which means we don’t need to juggle childcare during these periods.
I often see working mums getting off the train at 6.30 in the evening and I feel lucky to be able to get home at a decent time-even if it does mean working at home every night.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I think every working mum feels some sort of guilt, however for me that guilt has eased a bit since Robbie has started school. I also feel we all worry about missing parent interviews, sports day, and school plays but I have been incredibly lucky as my boss is very accommodating and tries to facilitate us working mums as much as possible.
I sometimes think we try to second guess our children’s feelings about us working – on one occasion when I was available to pick up Rob from school, he was delighted to see me but then asked if I could drop him off so he could he join his friends at Donna’s!
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
I think there’s a solution out there for everyone, depending on your own personal choice. My sister, also a teacher, opted for a four-day week this year and she finds a Wednesday off each week is invaluable to catch up on appointments, phone calls, household chores as well as spending time with her two children who are both under four. I feel that no matter what option you choose, there will always be the feeling that you are missing out on something, be it quality time with children or the prospects of promotion.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I am very happy in my job – it gives me the best of both worlds, to a certain extent. I will admit that I am exhausted by the time Friday arrives – and even more so come the end of a term. However, I feel lucky that I don’t have to ‘work’ weekends – except the usual marking on a Sunday evening. And the holidays definitely go some way towards making up for the hours I put in during the term.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
I’m not sure about this one – I frequently joke that if I won the lottery, (which I don’t even do, but hope my hubby would give me half-share if he won it!) I’d pack it all in but in reality I feel that I would miss the buzz I get from my job. The satisfaction I get from seeing pupils succeed and achieve – not just academically – is priceless. I regularly bump into former pupils who will remind me of something which has stayed with them for years or tell me about something I said or did in class which has impacted on them in a positive way and that feeling is hard to beat.
I admit I would love the extra time to do some of the more mundane jobs such as tidying the house, clearing out cupboards, making dental/doctor appointments etc. but I know that as soon as someone suggested coffee or meeting up, I’d be off and the house would be forgotten! I also don’t think I could afford to be off as I’m too easily tempted in the shops!
Having said all of this, when my husband retires in a few years’ time, I may change my mind when I’m the one having to get up and out in the mornings!
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?
I don’t think there is a glass ceiling, but I suppose that depends on the area of employment – the Chief Executive of my Education Authority is currently a female and a good friend of mine is the CEO of a large, national company yet she works in the office four days a week, with a day working from home and I know this is becoming more the norm for many. A few years ago, I would have been much more career driven in terms of promotion and working towards becoming a Principal but after having my son and four miscarriages, my priorities in terms of career paths have changed somewhat – but that is down to my own personal choice.
Thank you Tracy – it’s really interesting to hear your perspective, particularly as a teacher, and working in Northern Ireland.
I love what you said about how we second-guess our children’s feelings about us working. I think it’s so true. We focus on single moments and one-off comments that can cut to the bone, and overlook the many, many days when our children are perfectly happy seeing us work. It’s a very good point, and one lots of us forget. There are kids all over the country who are thriving in superb childcare settings, and perhaps we all need to trust our instincts more and believe that when our kids look happy, they are happy.
It’s really interesting to hear the pros and cons of teaching too – it’s certainly a longer day than I had realised, but it’s great that you don’t have to worry about childcare during school holidays. And lovely for your son to have you at home during summer.
And on a final note, I love that you have taught your students via iPhone loud-speaker – I’ve always thought teaching was one of the jobs that can’t be done remotely, but you’ve proved that it can!
Thanks for taking the time to share your story and best of luck with winning that lottery 🙂