Returning to work after an absence

You may be about to return to teaching after maternity leave or it could be after a period of absence due to illness; whatever the reason you are bound to be filled with a myriad of questions and anxieties about going back to work. What is the best way to prepare yourself for your return and where can you turn for some much needed advice?

Don’t panic!

Firstly… don’t panic! The longer you have been absent the more your anxiety will increase, however schools will have well-rehearsed procedures to aid your transition. Some schools will offer a phased return to work. In general you will be contacted and asked to attend a meeting. It is important that before the meeting you analyse what tasks you did before your absence and whether it is reasonable for you to do these tasks now and in the future.

Having your job description as a list at this point is incredibly useful as you will be able to objectively examine the practicalities of your role. Discussions with your GP in the case of a return to work due to illness or with other colleagues are also very helpful.

In many cases a back to work plan will be devised in order for there to be an easy-ish transition. This will include a framework to get you back to work smoothly; for example implementing a hand over meeting with the member of staff who has been covering your classes.

This should be devised so that there is sufficient time before you actually go back to work so you can be prepared. At this stage most employers will suggest a hand over period where you and your cover teacher are in school at the same time; generally you will not be teaching, but will have the opportunity to prepare your lessons and get up to date with any changes that may have taken place.

Invariably this hand over period is around a week. Of course there is no hard and fast rule with regard to this and will vary from school to school. This is also the time to get the practical issues like ICT access and reprographic needs organised so you can “hit the ground running” when you actually return.

Keeping up to date

The world of education is a fast moving sea of endless changes. As with all teachers you probably find it difficult to switch off. If you are absent due to a long term health issue or you’re on maternity leave the last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself with work. You need to recuperate! Do keep abreast of key changes by reading education press.

At your return to work meeting you should be informed about any important changes that will affect you, for example major curriculum changes and if some aspect of retraining is required this should be offered to you. The key thing is to ask and don’t be afraid of looking silly; asking questions and having your anxieties alleviated are key aspects to the process.

Your rights

In most cases you can expect to return to the same job you left. For those returning to work after maternity leave, and you are returning to work after 26 weeks or less, you are entitled to return to exactly the same job you were doing before the start of your leave (check specifics of your maternity leave policy).

If you are returning after more than 26 weeks maternity leave you still have the right to return to the same job, but if your employer has a good business reason why you cannot return to the same job, your employer can offer you a suitable alternative job on the same terms and conditions. At this point you will need to discuss your case with your union to ensure you are not a victim of work place discrimination.

This rarely happens and is not something you should be unduly worried about; knowing that you can access legal advice if need be is always very important.

Regular scheduled meetings

So now that you are back at work arrange regular meetings with your line manager to discuss any issues. It is also a time for you to be truly reflective. Are you coping? Is there anything that your line manager can do to help?

Looking at the long term, will you need to re-evaluate your hours? This is not uncommon. Many teachers start to think long and hard about whether they want to reduce their hours or perhaps change job roles. Be totally honest with yourself and be clear about exactly which changes you wish to accomplish.

After talking things through with important stakeholders, by that I mean family, friends and other trusted colleagues, you may wish to look to making long term changes to achieve the correct work life balance that we all seek.

Finally but most importantly, don’t doubt your abilities. Going back to work after a period of absence is definitely going to make you feel a little lacking in confidence. You were good at what you did before and you will be now. It is a matter of readjusting and valuing your achievements.

Make a list of things that you are great at, almost as if you were applying for your job again. Re-read your personal statement if need be; remember that you are valued and that you are able to make a positive contribution to your place of work and the young people in your care.

All the very best!

To boost your confidence once back in the classroom you may wish to book one of our Outstanding Lessons Courses or our personal skills-building course for reducing stress and getting things done: Effective Personal Management – Getting the Most Out of Your Day, or alternatively how to unwind from the stresses of the day and build the resilience that will keep you moving forward: Positive Well-being: Building Your Resilience.