How to leave your classroom kids behind when it’s time to have your own child (without having major teacher-guilt and any major breakdowns)
My husband and I were given less than 1% chance of getting pregnant on our own. So when I found out I was pregnant the day we were set to begin IVF, I was overjoyed. It was the start of the school year, and it seemed like a dream.
As all teachers know, the connection with your students is REAL. So after I processed my pregnancy, I began to realize that I would be leaving them in April to go on maternity leave. That’s when the panic set in. I started counting off lessons that I wouldn’t be able to teach them – of course, so many of my favorites are at the end of the year – and worrying about testing – would their substitute prepare them? – and just feeling an overall sense of guilt for leaving them. That might not be a normal reaction, but I’m sure my next one was. I hit Pinterest HARD looking for instruction on how to prepare for maternity leave. I found some good resources and many miserable ones (just put post it notes in the books and go? Seriously?!). In the end I figured it out. In the spirit of not letting all my neurosis go to waste, here is what worked for me.
9 months comes sooner than you think, especially with the 35 million teacher tasks we are faced with each week. At first, I felt like I had a long time until baby boy would make his arrival. I’m a textbook “type B” teacher by nature; I’ve never met a deadline that I couldn’t work right up against. However, at 9 months pregnant, getting up and organizing materials will likely be agonizing. At that point, I was scavenging for snacks in the lounge every chance I had, which really cut into my planning time. Luckily, by the time I went into labor, I was pretty confident that I had everything as it should be. This “type B” teacher had accomplished the most “type A” task of my life. It was a huge relief.
Create a system and get organized
I found that a binder worked best for me. Each week I set a goal to get through one more week of planning. Start with the easy stuff – the class lists, the procedures, the where’s what etc. You’ll gain momentum before it comes to the actual lesson planning, and it will be easier to figure out where you’ll be in the year as you get closer.
Maternity Leave Binder
What do you need?
– Class list
– Important student information (Allergies, accommodations, etc)
– Logins and passwords
– Emergency procedures
– Class rules
– Weekly Schedule
– Important Procedures and Routines
– Monthly overview (Here is where I marked important assemblies, field trips, important dates, deadlines, and birthdays)
– Lesson plans weekly overview (A skeleton of the topics for the week)
– Lesson plans by day (A more detailed explanation of what should be taught each day)
– Resources hole punched and placed in the binder behind the coordinating day. I chose to copy and/or print out one of everything needed, but I’ve also heard of teachers who created a Google Drive and shared that.
Some may find this to be overkill, but it helped me rest easy knowing that any sub – no matter their experience level – could pick up where I left off. Admittedly, my lesson plans were less detailed as the weeks went by because I assumed that the teacher would get the hang of it and add his or her own flavor and expertise. I just wanted to make sure that the sub and my kids were not lost. I had left a lifeline.
Plan a little extra on both ends
Babies have a mind of their own. Mine came a week before I was set to go on maternity leave. Luckily, I had planned two weeks before just in case. If you’re coming back afterward, plan out your first two weeks back as well. When you’re tired and nervous about leaving the baby those first few weeks, you’ll be happy present you cared enough about the future you to put in the extra effort.
Make sure the sub knows they can adjust your plans!
Nothing ever goes according to plan. The sub may need to slow down or speed ahead and that’s fine! Tell them to teach in ways that they are successful. Just make sure they know of any lessons that are non-negotiable. This also takes a weight off your shoulders with trying to come up with amazing lessons for them to teach. Generally, just give them the basics, make it easy for yourself. It also alleviates some of the disappointment you feel if the sub doesn’t use your beautiful plans perfectly. If you’ve ever been disappointed after coming back to a messy room and students who tell you they didn’t do anything while you were gone the day before, you know what I mean.
Create Tubs for Important Units and Lessons
I ended up separating larger materials that were needed for various units into labeled tubs. They were easy to find, and a one-stop shop for the sub. BONUS: They’re organized for me next year!
Prepare Your Students
Assign your students roles for while you are gone. Select/hold elections/have students apply for jobs that with keep everyone on track. Have a go-to person to ask where to find things. Another student will be the one who clarifies rules and procedures. Discuss the importance of the roles with your kids – they’ll rise to the occasion.
Before you go, put as many routines in place as possible. It’s much easier for a sub to step into a well-oiled machine. Anchor chart reminders never hurt either.
Communicate with the sub early if possible
Ask your sub to shadow you for a few days, or talk to them ahead of time. Everyone wins if the students have seen this person before and the sub is comfortable with your room and the way you do things. Introduce this person to team members they’ll be working with or other grade level teachers, so they know whom to reach out to while you’re off the grid enjoying your new family.
Adjust your passwords
Make sure anything your sub will need to access has a new password. You wouldn’t want them knowing the password you use for all of your own personal accounts!
Prepare to a level where you feel comfortable, and then sit back and relax. Enjoy your students, and when the time comes, enjoy that beautiful new baby. Deep breath. Your kids will be fine.