Out of all the topics I get emails about etc., this is probably the most popular… I have a lot of teacher-readers, and it seems everyone is looking for tips/advice on preparing for maternity leave and turning their classroom over to a long-term sub while they adjust to life with a new baby at home.
I’m not surprised. It’s a big deal and, for those of Type-A types, it can be quite anxiety-inducing, especially if you’ve never done it before. I should know… Back in 2011 when I had Sam (in July), I was so nervous about having someone else start the school year for me and never being able to get back on track that I actually took a DIFFERENT JOB (as the school testing coordinator) that I thought would be easier to jump into in October.
This time around; however, there is no avoiding it… With a late March due date, I will be out of school for almost the entire last quarter so – like it or not – I’m going to have to entrust my kiddos (and their AP exam) to someone else.
Since I need the same advice you all do, I called on some wise women who have been there done that already. Here’s what they had to share about their experiences and the things that worked for them when it came time to prepare for maternity leave and a long-term sub:
From Megan —
I was a long-term sub before I started teaching full time, and all I really needed was the teacher’s general pacing guide — literally a Google calendar with the weeks that I’d teach a book/unit written in pencil over those days, and access to previous hand outs and things (she had a big master-copy binder) so that I had a general idea of what she covered during that unit.
I covered for a teacher who went on maternity leave 2 weeks early — just 3 days after they interviewed me, so it’s not like she had a lot of time to prepare like she thought she would…
I think any good long-term sub should be able to handle things and be confident enough to ask other teachers for help. I know for To Kill a Mockingbird, I checked with a couple of the other 9th grade teachers to make sure that what I was doing was appropriate for Pre-AP level, since I hadn’t taught that specific book before. If you can also like, the 5 big learning goals for that unit, then the sub should be able to fill in the rest. Anything above and beyond that is icing on the cake.
From Stephanie —
I just came back from maternity leave in October (I took the 1st 9-weeks off). I teach Spanish and my district wasn’t able to find a sub that spoke Spanish so that made things a little bit difficult. That being said, the iPad became my best friend. I used the camera to make videos of me doing flash cards for the students, and then I used the app Explain Everything to make videos for important concepts. I also added sound to my PowerPoint presentations so she could essentially play those and the students would be instructed. I was pleasantly surprised how well the kids were doing when I came back. It was a lot of work but those videos can now be used as opportunities for remediation and I have shared them with the students on the class webpage so they can review on their own if they want.
From Crys at Bedlam & Belief—
I took seven weeks off with my first son and that took me into summer break. (I was due in March, too!) I put my stuff in a graph, but my sub was also my former English teacher so he didn’t need a ton of direction. My sections were teach, execute, homework. That indicated where he needed to focus his time as far as new skills, concepts, etc. The execute section was for in class practice/participation/execution of skill to be practiced, and homework was whatever was assigned for them to do on their own.
On days they were writing papers, etc. lesson plans were a lot easier. LOL. I also had a couple of days where they were watching a film in order to apply the concept of the Heroic Journey. My teacher wasn’t familiar with it, so he ended up having the class write a review over the film instead. Hey, each to his own. At least they got some writing practice 🙂
From Nicole —
As a middle school math teacher I made a binder for each math unit I teach. In the binder, I had all my classwork, homework, tests, and answer keys. I also had a section with remediation and extension worksheets and a section for projects and any other pertinent information. At the beginning of each binder, I wrote a letter that basically outlined how the unit would work and any tips or tricks I had for teaching that material. I left all my materials on a “shared google drive” as well so that they could access everything electronically as well.
I was lucky enough to work with both my replacements before I left so that I could go over pacing of the material and classroom management.
I also saw my leave as a partnership and I told them that while I left all the material to help them, it was their gig and I trusted that they could adapt my material as they saw it.
From Megan at M*Print —
It really helped me to know and trust my long-term sub. She student-taught with us and had just finished up her hours and graduated, so I knew her well, and she was very capable and smart. I pre-arranged that I wanted her specifically, and she knew it.
I also felt that long-term subs are paid much better than short-term subs because they’re expected to be more educated and do more of the work themselves. I left general sketches of lessons, and shared Dropbox folders with her via email so she had access to all of my resources, but I left the finer points up to her.
I also gave her my email and cell number, but ended up having to say, “Do what you feel is best. I’m with my baby,” because she contacted me several times and I simply didn’t care. I knew she had it under control and I was focusing on learning to be a mommy. I also had to be brave when it came to parents– the sub sent me a message asking if I’d be willing to have a phone conference with a mom who didn’t want to speak with her. My baby was four days old and we’d just come home from the hospital. I said no, which is very against my character as a “yes girl.” It was my right, on maternity leave, to not deal with all of that, and I’m glad I said no.
I made detailed notes on my kids and appointed a “helper” in each class, so she knew whom she could trust. I also made detailed notes on how to get into the grade book, attendance system, etc. and how to use my classroom technology.
Most importantly, I discussed with my kids in advance that I might have the baby at any point, and that if I did they’d get a new teacher who would be the boss-lady. I thought it was important to prepare them for a possible change in pace or classroom culture.
So, to summarize:
– At a minimum, provide a general “pacing guide” of what you’d like covered while you’re gone. At the max, leave detailed plans for each day. Regardless, trust your sub and give them freedom to make changes and adapt as they go.
– Leave a binder of hard copies AND electronic access (through a flash drive, Google drive, drop box, etc.) of all hand-outs, assignments, activities, etc. for the sub to use.
– Provide the sub with your contact info (if you want); but, more importantly, the names of specific colleagues and students they can go to if they have questions or need immediate help with something.
– Write out instructions and provide log-in information so that the sub can access your class Blackboard page, grade book, email, etc.
– If possible, meet with the sub and allow him/her to shadow you for a day or two before leaving so they can have a general sense of the “flow” of the class, etc.
– Prepare students ahead of time for changes.
– Stay caught up with grading etc. ahead of time so that the sub will not be responsible for things that may have been assigned or taught before he/she started.
– Remember that the sub is being paid for this time and – more than likely – you are NOT. The most important thing is that to you focus on YOUR BABY and realize that this time is short in the grand scheme of things. Everyone will probably survive without you… Really. 😉
My Personal Plan:
I’m not going to lie, all this totally stresses me out. One part of me wants to go crazy and be the most organized teacher ever so that a robot could teach my class if they had to; but, the other part of me (the more realistic part) recognizes that this probably isn’t going to happen – I can barely stay caught up with everything as it is. In general, I’m going to take the “less is more” approach and trust my substitute to handle his/herself.
I will probably work on a big document over Winter Break that outlines basic class procedures, how to log-in to my accounts, student information, etc. and put together a small folder or binder for my substitute. I keep pretty organized binders already, so I will likely just type up a general guide of what I’d like covered in each class while I’m gone and provide access to all the electronic copies of the papers found in the binders. From there, I’m going to try to LET IT GO, trust that everything will be fine, and enjoy my time at home. 🙂 My goal is to have all this done no later than early February in case baby decides to come early – the last thing I want to do is be worrying about school in the delivery room!
*I’m also hoping to provide an out-of-school study session for my AP students prior to the exam in May, but that will all depend – of course – on how things are going with the baby, etc.
As my leave approaches and I do more planning etc., I will be sure to share with you some of the specifics. Until then, I’d love to keep this conversation going! If you have experience prepping for a long-term sub and/or taking maternity leave as a teacher, please share in the comments below!
Hope this will be helpful to some!
All the best,
P.S. After successfully navigating a maternity leave after Nora was born in 2015, I’ve put together all that I learned and am excited to share it with new teacher-moms in my FREE eCourse: Maternity Leave 101. Sign up by clicking on the image below and get my Big Maternity Leave Checklist for Teachers too!!
I agree with trusting your long-term substitute. I was a long-term sub for 2 different semesters before I finally got hired. I didn’t take over for a maternity leave, I took over for a lady that was diagnosed with cancer. She had no time to prepare–she was very sick. Having said that, I am a social studies teacher by degree, and her classes were 12th grade English. I was very out of my comfort zone content wise, but I feel that it made me a better teacher in the long run. Actually, I am now an English teacher (haha!). She had a file cabinet with unit activities and such to give me an idea of what she had covered and I also connected with another teacher who taught the same grade and really soaked in her advice about what stories/poems to cover, etc. I didn’t have a book of lesson plans either. But for the most part, I handled it all like it was my classroom. I think that a long-term substitute should be able to do that–and I would not stress out about having each day planned out, etc…because just like regular teachers, we all know things never go as planned 🙂
I can add to my stuff up there:
I always keep unit binders up to date in my classroom. They help remind me what I’ve used in the past, and I have a section for “Things to Consider for the Future” that helps me revamp or change things as I see fit. Those would definitely benefit a long-term sub if I had to be gone on short notice.
I also left PowerPoints, access to my Prezi accounts and emailed my syllabus for my subs to review before I was gone. (I had two kids two years in a row so I actually took the first two weeks of this school year off, too.)
The best advice I got, though, came from a veteran teacher. She told me that once I had put this stuff together, I really needed to take my hands off of it and realize my priority was to the new baby and my family. She said no one expected more than that. Those words were a relief. I didn’t feel pressured to be “on call” during my leave and I really was able to do everything I could and then let go and enjoy my babies.
It’s hard, E, but you’ll be able to do it, too. Especially after you’re holding him/her in your arms.
(PS–do we get to know a gender soon? Did I miss that announcement?!)
I am maternity leave right now, and it has been stressful due to the fact my sub quit three days into the gig! They have since found a replacement, but I would like to add try to be involved in the interview process as much as possible. I was allowed to be, and I wish I had spoken up more when they only presented me with two candidates. Make sure your sub shadows you too, as it helps them learn your style.
Thanks for posting this! I’m 10 weeks away from maternity leave (unless the baby girl decides to come early), but I’m already starting to prep. My principal is wanting me to pilot a new technology option that would allow me to stay more “in touch” with my students while I’m on maternity leave. This is NOT an option that I’m really thrilled about. I’m a first time mom, so my focus will be learning how to take care of another human! My second graders will survive without me for 7 weeks. Reading your post really helped me come to grips with the fact that I CAN say no, and just be a mom. Like you said, I’m not getting paid to be there during that time, the sub is. And she’s more than capable 🙂 So, thanks for easing my mind!
If you ae on maternity leave I am.not sure that they can even ask.you to stay in touch with your students. You are not getting paid to be there…the sub is. They will be fine. I am on leave in 4 weeks and I do not plan on doing any school related anything while out. My sub is planning..she is certified in the area. I just told her what we usually cover during that time and left it up to her. I will deal wih whatever comes up when I return in April. Good luck momma!!
If you are on maternity leave I am.not sure that they can even ask.you to stay in touch with your students. You are not getting paid to be there…the sub is. They will be fine. I am on leave in 4 weeks and I do not plan on doing any school related anything while out. My sub is planning..she is certified in the area. I just told her what we usually cover during that time and left it up to her. I will deal wih whatever comes up when I return in April. Good luck momma!!
Legally you are not allowed to work more than 10days while on maternity leave and doing so could actually affect your benefits to this leave. You are also under no obligation to work if you don’t want to. Working is optional and if they pressure you to do so it can be considered maternity leave harassment or maternity discrimation.