As I type this (on a Wednesday morning), I’m home in my yoga pants drinking warm(ish) coffee watching my sweet, sick girl sleep. While there is absolutely nowhere I’d rather be, as a teacher, these days are few and far between from September thru May, and they always come at a cost.
One of my Facebook friends posted this status on Tuesday, and I thought it summed things up pretty perfectly:
In fact, Nora was sicker yesterday, but my grades were due at school so (after a rough night of stuffy noses, coughing, and no more than four hours of sleep for either of us), I sucked it up, poured a GIANT mug of coffee, gave our babysitter a million instructions, thanked her for loving my kids and being the one to cuddle them when they needed it, and went to work. I felt guilty all day.
To be home today, I spent a few hours yesterday re-working my schedule/plans at school, securing and prepping for a sub, posting announcements for my students, etc., and I still feel guilty. Guilty that my co-workers will have to pick up my slack while I’m out. Guilty that my students won’t have the most meaningful class time today. Guilty that I’m using my only sick day right now (thanks to maternity leave last spring) and it will be a headache if she is sicker later. The list goes on…
Teacher or not, I bet many of you know that guilt.
But this post isn’t about guilt…
It actually reminded me of an email I got a while back from a friend/blog reader who is a mom of three young kids and considering a teaching career. She wrote:
I’ve been toying with entering into a career-switcher program that will earn me my teaching certificate (for teaching high school). I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but the timing wasn’t right… Now, it feels like this plan might finally be able to take shape, so I wanted to ask you: Is there anything you wished you knew before you started teaching? I realize this is a huge question, I’m just trying to wrap my head around how we’d make it work. I’m assuming there is much work that is done outside the classroom, on your own time. Do you still find you are able to do what you need to do for your family and for you?
I know these are loaded questions! I know it will be challenging… but I know it is something that I will love to do. I know there are challenging aspects – administration, parents, etc. – But no job is perfect. I think, at the end of the day, I will love it more than not.
I love these questions, and I have thought about them SO much in the last few months. I think a lot of people (not this particular friend) think that teaching is an “easy” or “perfect” job for moms; and, while I don’t disagree that there are a lot of family-friendly aspects of this career path and that it works well for MANY moms, I don’t think it is as simple as choosing a job that is “convenient.” Trust me, the cons will outweigh the pros if that is your incentive. What stands out to me most about this friend’s email is the idea that teaching is something she would love to do. I think you guys know how much I love my job, and I think that is SO key. That is what makes teaching and parenting work together. (So friend, you’d do great!)
But, for logic’s sake, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of teaching for moms (based on my admittedly limited experience and humble opinions):
Pros of Teaching for Moms:
- Hours are convenient for daycare/school. Most teachers are “on the clock” from 7 or 8AM to 2 or 3PM, plus they have snow days, holidays, and summers off – mostly – in line with your own kids’ school calendars.
- You are familiar with the education system and the lives of kids/teenagers/etc. (I guess this could go either way, but I think of this as a positive. It will – hopefully – make me a better school-mom and parent as my kids grow up and enter the system themselves.)
- There are lots of other parents in teaching, so you generally feel understood and supported. I’ve always had the privilege of working with great colleagues and administration that make balancing my role as mom and teacher easier and will work with me when things do come up that take me away from the classroom, etc. (From what I understand about other professions in the corporate world, this isn’t always the case.)
- It’s easy to see a great cause for the work you are doing and, subsequently, for your kids to understand (and benefit) from that. Even on the days I feel bad about leaving my own kids, I feel good about the role I am playing in the lives of others and grateful that other moms and dads have trusted me with them. Also, since Sam goes to (pre)school and has a teacher himself, he really does get where I am and why I’m not with him every day. Just this morning, when I told him I was staying home with Nora, he said “but who will take care of your students?” 😉
- People generally respect your decision to teach because of the above points, so you don’t usually encounter a lot of trolls in the “working mom” debate.
- If you teach high school, you get to hang out with cool teenagers, have deep and intelligent conversation, and learn something every.single.day.
Cons of Teaching for Moms:
- Your day-to-day schedule is not all that flexible. It takes a lot of work to plan for a substitute so you can be home with a sick child, go on a field trip, etc., and you can almost never just “run out” for a quick doctor’s appointment or school assembly.
- Your mornings are early (see above); and, if you happen to be running late (because the baby always needs to eat five minutes before you walk out the door), you will meet 26 faces when you arrive.
- Unlike some other jobs, teachers don’t get a real “lunch break” that could be used for meeting friends, running errands, etc.
- You WILL have to do work outside of school – planning, grading, attending events, etc. (This gets slightly better the longer you have been in the classroom; but, I’d estimate that I spend about 8-10 hours a week doing school work outside of my regular work hours, and this is my 9th year teaching.)
- You are “on” for seven hours when you are with kids (I often equate teaching to acting – or at least what I think acting would be like), people say your name and need your “help” all.day.long, so it is physically exhausting and sometimes hard to come home and have to be “on” for your own kids too. I almost always need another cup of coffee (or a fifteen minute power nap) to get me from 4PM to bedtime.
- Teaching is also an emotionally exhausting job. I genuinely care about every one of my students. In addition to my two biological kids, I consider all 75 of my school kids mine too. I spend a lot of my time and mental energy outside of school thinking about and worrying about my students, and that can be taxing.
- Sometimes people think of you as “just” a teacher and don’t understand/value your time as a “working mom” as they would if, say, you had a more “high profile” job. For example, expecting you to still be on every committee, volunteer for things, do ten million things in the summers, etc.
I’m sure there are lots more of each, but that’s what I’ve come up with for now…
To summarize: I don’t think there is anything wrong with being attracted to a job that gives you two months off every year, has snow days, and “ends” at 3PM. Those are all GREAT perks, but they won’t be enough to sustain you on this career path… If you love kids, want to invest in their lives and their futures, believe in the power of education, and care about your subject matter, you will be happy as a teacher and find a way to make it work with your family priorities, schedule, etc. You WILL have to make sacrifices, but they will be worth it; and, I believe you will all (you, your husband, your kids, and your students) be better.
So, fellow teacher-moms, do you agree? What would you add to my pro/con list?
Have a great day!
P.S. Other related posts: 20 Things to Know Before Your First Year Teaching High School, 3 Tips for Surviving the Teacher Workload & Staying Sane, Should You Keep Teaching After You Start a Family: Two Different Perspectives, and On Choosing to Be a Working Mom
AND…. If you’re already a teacher and about to become a mom, you don’t want to miss my FREE eCourse on preparing for maternity leave! Sign up by clicking the image below and instantly gain access to my Big Maternity Leave Checklist for Teachers too!!!
Erika B. says
This is such a good post. It ticks me off when, like you mentioned, people just assume teaching is the “easy working mom job” due to getting off a little earlier and having a few weeks a year off. Uhhh…I don’t think that makes up for all the areas where more traditional jobs are actually MORE flexible. Like, when Millie is sick, I can just bring her with me to work and she sleeps/plays in my office while I get things done for a few hours. (Well, unless she’s puking. Ha. I’m not interested in cleaning puke out of my office carpet…) Pretty sure teachers don’t get that option. 😉 Anyway, I love how much you love your job…and I hope that you and other teachers get more respect and that people see that your job is a lot more than just a few weeks off in July!! And I hope Nora feels better soon!!
Great post! Though I admittedly do get kind of jealous of my teaching/mom friends because of the pros you listed above, there are many many areas where teaching lacks flexibility. The one I could add is being able to pump while at work. I have an office where i can just schedule my meetings and such around pumping and I just close my door. I know so many teachers who aren’t able to pump because of logistical issues in their school and I feel awful for them. I hope you little babe gets better soon!
Pumping at work as a teacher was awful for me. I have low supply due to a hormonal issue so I pumped a lot at home to maintain enough for LO. When I returned to work, I pumped as soon as I arrived, during my plan (10:44 am) for 20 minutes, during lunch (12:28) for 10 minutes and right before I left (around 3:12 if no students needed me). I wish I could’ve spaced those pumps out a little more, but they don’t have to give me a break for pumping so I had to work it around the schedule I already had.
I’m sorry it was so difficult 🙁 That is the story of so many teaching mamas I know. Hugs!! You did an awesome job!!
Although I’m finding that my schedule and my son’s schedule in preschool ARE NOT working all that well right now. Transitioning from a home daycare to preschool is tough. When you add in that it includes extended day time and he refuses to nap – YIKES! And I already feel the guilt that I can’t be a “room mom” or help to plan the classroom parties. I’ve also found that it’s hard because people expect your kids to be perfect in school because, well, you’re a teacher. It’s an emotional roller coaster!
But I love all my kiddos at school! I don’t just have one kid at home. I also have 22 at school. And I get so excited to see them excel and learn – especially when they’ve had challenges. And I believe it is so important for my son to see his parents (we’re both teachers) living our passion and contributing to our community in this meaningful way.
So yes, it is the right career for me. But it is SOOOOO tough sometimes too!
Thank you for this post. I needed it…
Elizabeth Thomson says
I love love this post. I just shared on FB and I don’t share a lot. I have been teaching History at the high school level for nine years, but it can be so challenging at times. My son is 4 and there never seems to be enough time in the day. I feel like many just assume its the perfect job for moms, but don’t take into consideration how “on” you have to be every minute of the day, etc. etc etc. (you know as a teacher)
Anyways, love your post!
Meg Milovich says
Love this post! I always say that teaching is like doing an hour long presentation, 6 times in a row. It’s exhausting! I am feeling so overwhelmed with grading, letters of rec, etc. this year, being a new working mom. Craziness. I know I will settle into a better routine, but it’s hard. I love my kids (both biological and student 😉 and I try to do the best I can each day. Some days that’s a lot, and some days it’s not.
Yes to all of these! I will also add that summers off is a double edged sword. I loved having my summer with my sweet little one, but I have had a rough few weeks lately. I think its because I got a bit spoiled being at home with her, and now having to adjust to our schedule has been tough on me. (not her, she loves her sitter and her friend at day care so she is happy as can be.)
One thing I did last year to make baby sick days a little easier is I made one simple lesson plan per unit I teach, and I have the lesson and all the materials for it in a folder in my filing cabinet. I told my teaching partner where it was, so if/when my little one gets sick in the middle of the night (or me too!) I can just text her and she can pull the lesson and materials out for the sub. These are all lessons that are not “needed” in my unit, but just a bonus lesson that relates to the subject.
Teaching has become harder for me now that I’ve been doing it for 11 years because my responsibilities have increased with my experience. This year, for instance, I have 3 preps (1 brand new), nearly 140 students (so jealous of your 75), am our English dept chair, and have other leadership responsibilities, plus my own two kids at home. I am flat exhausted every day. I don’t have time to think during the days, much less plan or grade, and I know my students won’t write as much bc of it. I also know my kids and husband don’t get the me they should because I’m so tired in the evenings and still have work to do.
This is such a great post. I’m going into my 3rd year and just got married so I like to think about when we will have kids and I just cannot imagine it on top of teaching! I’m never home, between meetings and extra curricular activities there’s something almost every day. Plus all of that work that you mentioned that teachers do at home. I feel like I am emotionally exhausted almost every day, I can’t imagine coming home to a child who needs me and who I would want to give my full self to each day. I definitely have some more growing up to do as well as big decisions to make about how much I can take on when I have kids!
You’re doing a great job! I hope Nora is feeling better so you can enjoy time with her and not feel guilty for being home or at school!