Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between parenthood and work - they can do both
By the time Emma Sheppard had her first baby, she was committed to building a fair education system, and didn’t want to put that on ice.
It turned out many others felt the same way. With the help of the Teach First community, she’s since launched the Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher (MTPT) Project – a thriving network of support, coaching and resources for teachers on parental leave.
After completing the Teach First Training Programme in Watford, I set off to broaden my experience to teach English in Vietnam. I then spent six months in Singapore, drinking smoothies and not doing a great deal. That was a frustrating time, and I really missed having a sense of purpose. I wanted to reconnect with the mission that had first fired up my passion for teaching.
From teacherhood to motherhood
In 2014, I took a role at a Harris Academy in South London. It felt good to be back, doing what I do best, and making a difference for disadvantaged young people.
After one particularly hectic summer term, I went on maternity leave. Though excited to have my baby, I suddenly felt plunged into a void of the unknown. I’d gone from being constantly busy, with a real sense of purpose and drive, to sitting and waiting.
I’d hear what everyone was doing; who’d been given new roles and responsibilities, the excitement at our students’ achievements. I really missed that part of my life.
The worrying stats on teachers leaving
I saw the trends: issues around the gender pay gap, the motherhood penalty, and inequalities in school leadership. Female teachers aged 30-39 are the second most likely demographic (after retirees) to leave the profession. I thought of all the young people missing out on these experienced, high-quality teachers. I didn’t want to become another statistic.
I decided to see maternity leave as an opportunity – one that many teachers never get – to deepen my professional practice. I began reconnecting with my subject through podcasts, visiting museums, reading. All the things I had no time for when immersed in teaching, that I could now do with my baby Hugo at my side.
When I started blogging, teachers tentatively came forwards, sharing similar feelings. Slowly, we formed a community, and the MTPT Project was born.
Growing the MTPT community
I saw the potential to reach many more teachers needing peer support in this pivotal period of their lives. So I reached out to the ambassador community.
Teach First gave me a platform to talk about MTPT. I wrote in ambassador newsletters, shared posts through their social media – I even took Hugo along when I spoke to new trainees. Lots of teachers were hearing about us through the ambassador community.
Staff at Teach First were also hugely supportive, and gave me valuable feedback. I had the opportunity to speak at one of the national team days, about the principles of MTPT – offering teachers freedom to choose how they spend their parental leave.
From an idea, to a full-flown charity - helping parents who need it most
Tapping into the ambassador community helped us grow MTPT into the charity it is today. I learnt a huge amount from Teach First: I got mentoring and training on core areas like financial management, recruiting strong Trustees, and the importance of providing evidence of impact. This support was vital to us getting charity status recently.
Today, we work with schools and teachers nationally. We offer a structured support programme where teachers can take the professional development they’ve gained on parental leave and channel it into a project that makes a difference for their school and, most importantly, its young people.
Teach First is at the heart of MTPT. Two of our trustees are ambassadors, as well as six of the team - we’re everywhere! The ambassador network is so strong.
When I look at what we’ve achieved so far, I’m most proud of seeing the difference we can make to wider school culture. We help senior leaders provide effective flexible working and professional development opportunities – things all staff benefit from.
Ultimately, it’s keeping more quality teachers in the classroom, where they’re needed most.
Like Emma, if you've completed any of our programmes, that makes you a Teach First ambassador. You are now part of a community changing education for the better. Our community consists of teachers, leaders, policymakers and beyond, bringing their expertise to help unlock the potential in all children. No matter where you've chosen to go after your time with Teach First, as an ambassador, you're a critical part of the solution to ending educational inequality.
Find out more about how you can stay connected and continue to make an impact, below:
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