This article appears here on The Guardian Teacher Network Blog.
I have just become a father after 20 years of teaching and this week, I will be celebrating my second Father’s Day. However, on this particular occasion, this Father’s Day will not be spent on a Neonatal unit.
Just over one year ago, my son was born 12 weeks premature, weighing just 1lb 9ozs. Despite only 28 weeks gestation which would normally carry a 75% survival rate, his extreme prematurity coupled with an extreme low-birthweight, meant that his survival rate was more like 50-60%, similar to a premature baby born at 24 weeks gestation.
Looking back at the first four weeks of my son’s life in hospital, Father’s Day arrived and my first was a celebration indeed. After the typical nervous night’s sleep, not quite sure what to expect in the morning, I arrived to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to hear of no major news or further set-backs. Our nurse greeted me with a wonderful blue rosette badge and a small card that lay on top of the incubator; the card contained a tiny hand-print and footprint stamp, no bigger than four or five cms in length; my first cuddle after 19 long days made this one of the best days of my life.
Thirty-five days later, my son was transferred 85 miles back home to his third hospital, where he spent the next 47 days in special care. He has battled through 35 days of intubated ventilation, a further 30 days on CPAP ventilation, Meningitis, four blood transfusions, a hydrocele and hernia operation. The list goes on…
Consequently, my journey into parenthood may not be a typical beginning, but some of the following scenarios I now face in school may sound familiar to you if you are a parent and also a teacher…
Firstly, let us consider sleep and tiredness.
I used to think working 60 hours a week for 38 weeks of the academic year was exhausting. How foolish was I?! Parenting a newborn takes fatigue to a new level. Exhaustion as a result of teaching does not come close. I now have to reduce my hours and find a day at work like a pleasant day off from the over-tiredness.
Secondly, the logistics of work and working.
I now have to work smarter and consider what days I have to arrive late and leave early due to childcare commitments. Where possible, I consider planning my week ahead in a different way, considering late evenings, doctors appointments and deadlines much more carefully. I did this exceptionally well before, but ponder this much more thoughtfully. I also have a new-found respect for all the colleagues I used to line-manage who are parents. I now understand and I am so sorry if I did not appear further compassionate… I find myself walking through the school gates twice a week just before the bell rings and I have the same reasons.
Oh yes, my smart, dry-cleaned and leg-pressed suit. Your days are numbered as I arrive to work; I sit down to a meeting with a colleague and then look down only to discover a dried-out lump of porridge glued to my trousers! I am now officially part of the “stain-on-every-garment” gang as I lick my finger to rub away the stain!
Subsequently, a change in perception is the adjustment of conversation I have with colleagues and my headteacher. I talk about the work I complete at 2am in the morning or the amount of “spew and poo” I had to clean up at 6am before leaving for work… I’m sure staff do not want to hear about this, but there are some exceptionally funny circumstances with children at home that can bring about a great deal of laughter at work.
Equally, the fulfilment of teaching and parenting has taken me and my purpose to the next level. At parent evenings, I truly have something in common with every parent I talk with. I understand their frustration, their hopes and fears and the joy a good report must bring. I have stated time and time again, that parenting is the key to a successful learner in the classroom. Today, I have the responsibility to meet my own expectations…
From a business perspective, becoming a parent has allowed me to consider value for money in the classroom. Every lesson counts more than it did before. I know this is an unrealistic statement and some may ask what have I been doing for the past 20 years? Imagine some of the poorer lessons you or I have delivered? What if my son was in that class? How would I feel being a parent? I have never felt stronger about students receiving good quality lessons and learning experiences…
Fatherhood has completely changed my perception of teaching. As a parent, not only do the Peppa Pig parables improve my storyteller techniques, but now I am equipped with an array of fables and family experiences to share in the classroom or whole-school assemblies. Students thrive on real-life stories and I am a better teacher for it.
My son has never been healthier and I’ve never been happier. Please share the joy of Father’s Day with your students and colleagues, or even make a donation to premature charities such as Bliss and Tommy’s Baby. Happy Father’s Day!