Teacher friends, I know that many of you are like me with a serious appetite for control. Organizing, planing, and assessing variables are some of the things that make us good teachers. They are also some of the exact things we need to let go of when preparing for a maternity, paternity, or family leave sub. I'm currently in the process of preparing to take maternity leave for my second baby. It is such a personal decision and a personal process that I can't emphasize enough how different this experience can be for everyone. No parent should feel compelled to fit neatly into the model that worked for their co-workers, friends, or even themselves with a previous child. As a society and as a profession, we should reach out in support for people needing to take family leave no matter if they are: mothers or fathers, biological or adoptive parents, caring for a baby or a relative of another age or in any other circumstance. That being said, I would like to go through a few things that I think are good to think about when preparing for family leave.
1. Timing: As with many things in life, timing is everything. Unfortunately, we cannot always plan these things, so here are some time issues to consider:
- Time of year: If you are going to be gone for the first few weeks of a school year, it may be advantageous to leave some detailed instructions for policies and procedures that will help you transition smoothly into the rest of the year (but be prepared to start over when you come back anyway). If you will be gone during testing, you can communicate proactively to assure students that they will still be able to do their best. If you are going to miss the end of the year, be realistic with what a sub can cover! Fourth quarter is a hard time for all of us. No matter what period you will be missing, think about what may come up during that time and plan accordingly as much as possible.
- How much time you have to prepare: Some teachers have 30+ weeks to prepare and some teachers have an emergency that necessitates a quick exit. Do what you can, but don't beat yourself up if you need to leave in a hurry. As much as we love to control our classrooms, sometimes we have to give ourselves an excused assignment and trust that our capable colleagues, administrators, and substitutes will have our back.
- How much time you will need off: I am a fan of over preparing just in case you need more time than you originally expect. Over-preparation will also help smooth the transition back since you will have many things already taken care of!
2. The Sub: If you are lucky enough to know who your sub will be in advance of your absence, you can use that information to effectively plan. Experienced subs may need very little more than an outline of what should be covered during your absence. Newbies may want more scaffolding and resources. There can also be a trust factor when preparing for a sub, especially for secondary teachers. We have spent our careers building, tweaking, and perfecting our curriculum and assessment banks. It can be scary to hand over the keys and other resources, knowing that a careless steward can result in having to recreate final exams and other sensitive materials.
3. School Culture: Your school may have a well-estabished protocol for preparing for a long-term sub. It is helpful to ask administrator and any co-workers who have been through the process before you start preparing just in case there is a specific plan already in place or in case they have some time-saving advice for you.
4. The Students: If you have students or parents that will be espeically sensitive to your absence, consider how to best preparing them in advance, but also consider creating something for the sub to share with them while you are gone. You can pre-write some notes of encouragement or pre-record a video pep talk to pump them up before things like graduation or a big test.
5. Your Situation: It is not fair to compare. You may be ready to come back sooner or later than your co-workers in similar situations. You may be dealing with more complicated medical issues or other private factors. Don't expect that your path will match the expectations of those around you. Allow yourself the space to take care of yourself and your family so that when you return, you are ready to take care of the students in front of you.
Our jobs are incredibly important. We change lives. Many of us count our students as our children. In the end, though we must let go in order to take care of ourselves and our families. We have to rely on each other to keep the system moving and care for the young minds entrusted to our care. The issues above are ever-present in the minds of teachers preparing for leave, but should also be present in the minds of fellow teachers who can choose to be part of the support system.
We'd love to hear your leave stories, advice, and questions in the comment section below.