A Teacher Shares How She Went On Maternity Leave and Transitioned Back

Melissa, a fifth-grade teacher, and mother of four, has left teaching for maternity leave more than once. Here, she shares the challenges she faced. She also offers tips and tricks that she picked up along the way to make the transition easier.

Going Back to Teaching After Maternity Leave

As I write this blog, I’m preparing to return to work from my fourth maternity leave. Although I’m excited to see my amazing students again, my heart is breaking over the idea of leaving my daughter with a babysitter at only 8 weeks old. With my two oldest children, I was able to take 4 months off because I had enough time saved up. Then, with my third child, I only had 6 weeks.

With each leave, I’ve learned it doesn’t matter how much time you take off, going back to work is hard.

Tips for Transitioning Your Students to a Substitute Teacher

  • Make sure your classroom is very well structured before you leave if possible. Teach your students your daily routines and procedures. They can help your sub to maintain these while you are gone. 

  • Make sure your sub knows if there’s a part of your classroom procedures that are essential for you (because like it or not some things are going to change.) For example, my silent reading time is sacred in my classroom. I do not let my students use this time for anything else (no homework or bathroom breaks, etc.) It is very important to me that my students continue these expectations while I am out of the classroom, so they do not develop other habits while I am gone. 

  • Give your sub a copy of all the rules and procedures for your classroom. Think about what information you give to parents on your Curriculum Night/Open House. Give all that same information to your sub. 
 Also, make sure he/she has a copy of all IEP’s/504’s or other important information about your students. Providing information about fire drills and other emergency procedures is also important.
  • Communicate to the parents and students about when you will be leaving and returning as openly as possible. Obviously, you never know if you may have to leave early; however, letting them know your plan is always important. 
 My students were always asking for updates about when I would be leaving. They wanted to know what the plan was if I was to leave early and most importantly, they wanted to know when I would be back. I was always as honest as possible with them about my leave.
  • If possible have at least one shadow day with your sub. This way your sub can meet the students and see your routines in action. This will also give you a chance to go over any important information that your sub will need.

Each district may have different requirements for what you must provide for your sub before you leave.

I have always written very detailed lesson plans for the first 1-2 weeks that I will be out, and then left curriculum maps of the units of study that my sub was responsible for while I was gone. (Remember, the person taking over your classroom should be a certified teacher as well, he/she will appreciate having some freedom to teach in his/her own style.) For these units, I leave digital or paper files of the resources that I use to teach them.

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Tips for Returning to Work

  • Communicate with your sub about your return date and what you will need when you return. Let him/her know if you want them to write the lesson plans for your first days back.
  • I am returning on a Wednesday instead of a Monday (this helps ease you back into working,) so my sub wrote lesson plans for the whole week. This helped me to know what they were working on, and it made returning to school easier with less prep for me.
  • Have a transition day if possible where both you and your sub are there when you return. This is a huge help for communication about what the students were able to accomplish while you were gone. 
  • Review your procedures and routines as much as needed when you return. It is very likely that your classroom did not run exactly as did before you left. Just remind your students of your expectations.

Just Remember

  • Your family comes first! Having a baby is a huge adjustment when teaching full-time. (Especially if this is your first child.) It’s okay to leave those papers on your desk at the end of the day and go home to your family. (They will still be there tomorrow.) 

"It’s okay to cry in the car the entire way to work, just don’t forget to wear waterproof mascara (or maybe wait to apply it until you get to school.) One good thing about being a teacher is that you are usually so busy during the day you don’t have much time to overthink things, and before you know it, it is time to go home and snuggle that baby.

  • Parent tip: I have always told my children’s caregivers to please not let me know if they see my son or daughter do something for the first time. So, as far as I knew he/she didn’t say “baba” or crawl across the room until I saw it for the first time.

I hope these tips are helpful. Please check out my FREE Maternity Leave Planning Pages.

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Do you have any tips for going on maternity leave? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Melissa Pelkowski is a fifth-grade teacher in Illinois, and she has been teaching for eighteen years. She also has four children(2 boys and 2 girls ages 9, 6, 4, and 2 months.) You can learn more about Melissa on her blog, 5th is my favorite.  You can also follow her on Instagram.

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