Interview with Tamara Pearson, Senior Teacher at Our Lady of Sion School

How family-friendly is teaching as a career? Tamara Pearson, mum and Senior Teacher at Our Lady of Sion School in Worthing, reveals how she balances her career and family.

How many children do you have?

Our daughter was born in April 2013. From our many attempts at gaining a 3D photo during pregnancy we could tell that she would be full of spirit- always hiding at the crucial moments and ever-evasive of that perfect shot!

What’s your career background?

After gaining my BSc I completed my teacher training and started my career in Bournemouth. I spent four years teaching in the state sector before relocating and transferring to an independent school.

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Initially I started on a one year temporary contract, then a permanent position came and in the same year I was promoted to Deputy Head.

Why did you go into teaching?

Following inspirational teaching from my Archaeology A-Level tutor, my undergraduate degree was in Heritage Conservation. It was on my placement at The British Museum Education Department that I soon realised my passion lay in working with children.

I volunteered at local primary schools before gaining a place on a School Centred Initial Teacher Training Course. As part of the Primary Catholic Partnership the approach was very much about getting straight into the classroom.

Over the year I taught in a number of Catholic Primary schools in the Bournemouth and Christchurch area before gaining my PGCE QTS and CCRS.

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Did your career change once you became a mum, and if so, how?

I had been Deputy Head for four years when I became a mum. After taking one year maternity leave I returned to work on a four day week for one term before going back to full-time hours.

Having one term of reduced hours provided an ideal transition back into full-time working. Approaches to work changed. With the onset of Nursery drop-offs and collections I soon realised that I needed to be time rather than task driven.

Without question becoming a parent made me more efficient in my working and heightened my instinct for rooting out priorities.

Where do you work now, and why did you chose that school?

I now work at Our Lady of Sion, Worthing. After nine very happy years at my previous school I felt it was time for a change.

The ethos of Sion instantly drew me in and after visiting the school and meeting the new Senior Leadership Team I knew this was my next calling.

I saw the position of ‘Senior Teacher, Curriculum’ and its role in the overall management structure of the school as visionary and it provided all I wanted from a role. Having the opportunity to co-lead the Junior School with the Senior Leadership Team, whilst leading curriculum and still being able to retain time in the classroom was all I could hope for.

Working alongside another new mum (Senior Teacher, Pastoral) and for family-friendly employers is a huge benefit.

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Is teaching a family-friendly career?

As with many careers, it can be if you enable it to be. Retaining a healthy life-work balance requires strategic planning, perspective and realism.

There are inevitable ‘crunch’ times, but with planning and a support structure around you to help with childcare arrangements it is possible.

We were very fortunate to find a nursery that met with our philosophies and logistics around work. The hours the nursery could provide enabled me to return to work full time and pursue my career.

What do you love most about teaching?

Having been lucky enough to have taught boys and girls from Reception to Year Six in both the state and independent sectors, I know that above all, I love working with children.

Fostering a love of learning and enabling opportunities to see children at their best continues to be a privilege. Seeing those ‘light bulb moments’ never fails to give you goose bumps! Being there to see the journey and shaping the route ahead is hugely rewarding.

Children always have the ability to cut to the chase and remind you of what is actually important.

What does an average working day look like?

After dropping our daughter off at nursery I arrive at work just after 7:30am. I usually start the day by grabbing a coffee, checking in with staff and answering emails.

I teach a small group of Year Four children for English and Maths each morning  then the rest of the day consists of projects, meetings and duties. All children have left the campus by 5pm, after which I continue with tasks before collecting our daughter.

We head home for family time, bath and bed routine. When there is an evening function at school I endeavour to take our daughter home before preparing for the event, but sometimes I tap into my bank of support to assist with collections.

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As a teacher and mum yourself, what tips do you have for other parents about helping their children get the most out of and enjoy school?

In three words – balance, patience and communication.

Balance – an overall balanced approach is important. As parents we are often too hard on ourselves and can easily set unrealistic expectations on our parenting.

Whilst it is undeniable that children benefit from structure and routines, it is also important for children to have time to be just that. It is all too easy for diaries to become full of extra-curricular pursuits and social engagements.

Enabling and developing passions and interests is fundamental, but so is time at home. My mother always said that it didn’t matter what your chosen activity was, it is more about the discipline and commitment that you learn from pursuing it.

As a child I learnt to play the harp. It was a daily commitment and required huge dedication. Most importantly I loved it- the decision came from me, but was supported by my parents. I practised every day and went on to get a full scholarship at my senior school – however I also enjoyed plenty of ‘down time’.

Patience – patience when things do not go to plan and the ability to stand back, letting your children learn from their mistakes.

This can be so hard. It is in our nature to want to be there and pick up at every fall – but learning cannot take place if children are not allowed the opportunity to sometimes ‘fail’ and get it wrong. Thankfully we are moving from a culture of ‘helicopter parenting’ to more of a growth mindset approach.

Communication – between children, parents and school. Developments in technology are exciting and provide so many opportunities, but regular face-to-face communication is always best.

Open and honest dialogue enables everyone to benefit and manages misconceptions as well as different perceptions.

Tamara Pearson is Senior Teacher, Curriculum at Our Lady of Sion, Worthing.