I’ve been on maternity leave for over two months now, and although my hands are more than full most of the time with my beautiful baby daughter, I find myself occasionally considering what might be going on at work in my absence. By Ruth Bradbury

So first of all, what am I not missing? Well, I’ve not missed the queue of angry teachers at my office door complaining that their rooms are too cold on the first morning of slight frost. And I haven’t missed the same queue of teachers a week later when the weather has improved complaining that their rooms are too warm. I haven’t missed the last-minute frantic rush for the Christmas carol service (where can we buy a life-size model sheep at 24 hours’ notice?). I haven’t missed the 40 pages of typing and 300 envelopes to be addressed which arrive in the office at 3.30 on the last day of term. I haven’t missed the panic because we haven’t ordered any salt to de-ice the carpark, or the caretakers’ pained disbelief at the headteacher’s request for them to remove all conkers from trees on the site before the students get to them. I haven’t missed the rushing around, and the endless meetings, and the frayed tempers. Also, now the new year is here, I’m not missing the speculation about the 2005-06 outturn and the 2006-07 budget – or the frustrating attempts to rein in ambitious spending plans, at least until we know how much we’re getting. But while I’m not missing some aspects of my responsibilities, I am missing the overall responsibilities themselves. I miss being asked for my opinion; I miss managing staff; I miss solving problems; I miss talking to a hundred people every day. I miss having an influence and giving instructions. I even miss having a big bunch of keys! I also miss the hustle and bustle of the school environment: the sense, inevitable in a large building full of teenagers, that anything can happen at any moment and probably will. I miss thinking on my feet and using my brain. I miss being part of an organisation that has the power to stimulate, influence and shape so many young people. Financially, I have no choice but to return to work after Easter, and on reflection I am glad that the decision is out of my hands. It will be a terrible wrench at first, but part of me will breathe a sigh of relief at that first staff briefing of term when someone sidles up to me to complain that their classroom hasn’t been cleaned. It may be a difficult job at times, but it’s my job, and I want it back!

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