With the lack of supportive work places for employees undergoing fertility treatment a career break might be the solution.
How possible this is, however, is another thing: to take anything from a school term to a year off in an attempt to start a family is expensive in itself particularly when there are clinic bills to pay, add on treatments and of course lifestyle and household bills to uphold.
Obstacles aside teaching is a challenging, fast paced career where the goal posts are forever changing along with the latest fads and trends of teaching and learning.
To take a career break for a year might mean walking back into a job that has changed so much that you feel you’ve been left behind. Of course, arguably this is what would happen after a year of maternity leave but then there are the option of KIT (keeping-in-touch) days.
Career breaks aren’t for everyone with some women preferring to keep busy throughout treatment.
Career break vs Career suicide
Unpaid leave affects pension and social benefits. In her book Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez discusses how women are more likely to take unpaid leave over men; with more women opting for career breaks in an attempt to conceive/ attend fertility appointments this would be true.
Perez indicates that it is punitive for women’s pensions and social benefits to be affected after they’ve taken leave.
This unpaid leave is often due to personal reasons which are mostly to have and raise children: something that men are less likely to do. She insists this demonstrates that the workforce are looking for a ‘male woman’ or in other words someone who can continue to work through the demands of family life and this she says shows ‘gender bias towards men’.
I spoke with a teacher who decided that a career break would be best for her whilst undergoing another round of IVF. She said she felt guilty for the time she was absent from the classroom for fertility treatment, and didn’t like returning to teach after these almost always invasive and emotionally draining appointments.
After becoming pregnant through fertility treatment this teacher returned to teaching for the remainder of her pregnancy in the capacity of a supply teacher. She said “it was wonderful to be pregnant in a school where nobody knew my battle of infertility and of all of the hospital appointments— I was just the pregnant supply teacher”.
The bonus for this teacher returning to the classroom whilst pregnant meant that she was able to collect SMP (standard maternity pay) and continue paying into her pension. A career break that continued into the remainder of the pregnancy would have meant there was no access to SMP.
The ‘mythical creature’
Perez discusses how working life is tailored to a ‘mythical creature’, which perhaps describes how you might be feeling after trying to manage daily injections and an internal vaginal scan into the same day you have 3 meetings, a break duty, have parents to ring and 6 classes to teach alongside the usual daily demands of life.
Taking a career break through fertility treatment doesn’t mean you’d necessarily need to spend the days baking, walking and watching box sets (although there’d be nobody stopping you if wanted to). You could take this opportunity to explore other avenues of interest through accessing: free online courses and volunteering, which might even lead you down another route of employment entirely or provide ideas on how you could start you own business.
Career breaks don’t have to be the end of your career. They could be the start of another.
If and when you ever decide to return to the classroom or be an employee elsewhere a career break would demonstrate your ability to take risks and could look great on a CV.
500 people were interviewed for the 2011 book ‘Reboot Your Life’ which encourages and inspires its readers to take career breaks for whatever reason they might have; these people discuss what their lives were like before and after the career break. Interestingly ‘not one person regretted the decision to take a break’ no matter if it was a month or two years.
A career break can come in two forms: a sabbatical where you return to your place of employment after an agreed time of leave, or you resign and look for another job role when you’re ready.
In 2018 there was talk from the government about a paid sabbatical where teachers would take anything from a month up to a year away from the classroom so that they can study an area of teaching that they’re interested in.
This was to be an incentive to keep teachers in their jobs as it would give them some time out from the classroom whilst still earning. The proposal came about after an NEU survey found that 80% of teachers had considered leaving education.
On this sabbatical teachers could be studying from home away from the perpetual white noise of the corridors at break times and the demands of the timetable. There would be the flexibility to attend appointments without the concern of who’s day you’d be ruining with cover roulette.
Don’t, however, hold your breath that this will happen any time soon. The last time I checked nothing had been done about this since it was proposed half way through 2018.
The option of an unpaid sabbatical would be great for those going through treatment who could manage financially for a period of time with the knowledge that their job will be waiting for them upon their return to work.
If this is you then consider having a conversation with your headteacher about where they stand with sabbaticals and if they’d agree to this. It’s always advisable to speak with your union before any formal conversation which in this case would be regarding unpaid leave.
When a career break is out of the question
Part-time work would allow a different pace of life and may allow more flexibility around clinic appointments. It could also provide a much better work-life balance; you’d still be earning but you’d also have the days where you don’t need to rush back from appointments frazzled and tangled between your emotions and work mind.
A government paper released in 2019 found that only 28% of female teachers work part-time with women in other careers doing so at a much higher rate. The document states that ‘improving opportunities to work flexibly’ is important.
If you believe that teaching part-time is something that would better suit your personal circumstances then consider organising a frank discussion with your headteacher to request flexibility.
Every working woman and man who is undergoing fertility treatment should be offered flexible working that doesn’t jeopardise their career, pension, social benefits and mental health.
Headteachers and other employers need to open their office doors and their minds to the understanding that flexible working is the way forward for those struggling to have a family.
Flexible working is a sign of the times: 2020 has shown us all how important work-life balance is as we have spent more time at home and less time commuting; most of us have been able to see the benefits of better job satisfaction and a reduction in stress, and we want to keep it this way. Some headteachers have asked their staff to be off site when they’re not teaching and these teachers have expressed their joy at the small bit of ‘freedom’ and ‘trust’ they have been handed albeit at the expense of a global pandemic.
It’s great when the want for a career break comes from the individual’s craving of opportunity or simply ‘the break’ away from it all; however is it really the answer for staff who feel they aren’t being supported at work through their treatment?
Is the answer actually to have good staff training around infertility and a fair fertility policy for teachers that offers flexibility in the first place so that staff wouldn’t need to consider being put in a position where they could be losing out?