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Guest Post: By Patricia Wood
August 2004- Jan 2016
My teaching career is over.
“Hey Mr. S, can I talk to you for a minute?” I poked my head into my principal’s office, hoping I could ask his advice. I wanted to know how to proceed on taking advantage of the unpaid family leave available to me when I gave birth to my second daughter in October 2014. As a teacher, one of the advantages was that I was allowed to take up to two years off, one time during my career, and still hold my position as 9th grade English teacher at my high school. I didn’t want to take the full two years, but I did want to take the remainder of the school year after my daughter blessed us with her appearance in October. As it was still the previous school year, there was plenty of time to request and have granted my wish; I just needed to consult the almighty Genie.
As I was discussing what to do with my principal, he asked me a question.
“This leave would just be temporary, right?”
“Oh my goodness, yes! Unless we were to have three, there’s no way that I would leave permanently! And we have no intentions of having three kids. This will be the last!”
Both of my pregnancies were great- especially in comparison to many pregnancies of which I had witnessed and heard about. I didn’t gain a truckload of weight, just the regular junk in the trunk. I didn’t wake up yakking my guts out every morning or walk around with the dopish look, “I’m gonna ralph any minute” inspires. I didn’t have crazy swelling or anything else that could make my pregnancies all that unbearable, so there was no reason to being averse to a third pregnancy other than I really didn’t think we would want to try for a third. That, and it would mean I’d have to quit my job, as the pay versus output for a sitter ratio would not be worth it.
I love my job. I’ve worked hard and long for my education to get and keep it, and I really did not see myself as the “stay at home mom” type of woman. Goodness, for years I didn’t even see myself as a “mom” type of woman, but here I was pregnant with number two, and my first was only a year old. What did I know?
So everything was going smoothly. The school year of 14-15 came, and for me in October it ended with my baby girl #2 coming right on schedule. I was not to return to work until the following school year- damn lucky, and I was well aware.
So as the summer of 15’ came about, I consulted with my previous babysitter to see if she would be available to take on my “two” children now, and we went about making arrangements for getting them used to her, her new home which was now inconveniently on my husband’s way to work rather than my route, and all was well. She was a great caretaker- former EMT, teacher, mother to four great kids, homeschool teacher- you name it. She was young, energetic, and most importantly she had loved my first child, and I knew she would take care of my second the same way.
It was difficult to go back to work, but I felt my girls were in good hands, and I knew they were getting to do fun and educational activities on a daily basis. What could go wrong?
Well, apparently, a lot.
November 2015- My babysitter would sometimes bring the girls to me at work, as she would come into town to pick up her son from school or various other reasons, and it was just such a day. The usual meet and greet, transfer kids from vehicle to vehicle, start the DVD player for a lil ride home entertainment, and then it happened.
We had, “the talk.”
“It’s not working out…. Personality differences… kids not happy… this is my formal notice.” And a letter stating the kindly worded dismissal of my children from her care. I cried… she cried. I know it wasn’t easy for her. I know she cared for my children.
“Formal notice…” I feared those words for more than one reason.
I was to have from just before Thanksgiving until Christmas break to find a new sitter- a new person to entrust my children with, get to know, and with whom to feel safe leaving them. That may seem like plenty of time to some, but to me, it wasn’t. If I couldn’t find someone, what then?
So much was going through my mind. Am I going to have to quit my job? Teaching jobs are not easy to come by, and this was already my third I was fortunate enough to get. This job was not just “a job” to me. This school and its students have provided me with so much more than a typical teaching career provides. Not to think of not being there was painful.
The thought of leaving my girls with just anyone was unthinkable.
My husband and I are not a fan of large daycares. I know they have many wonderful people who work there, highly qualified, caring individuals, but it just is not what we wanted for our girls. It was not an option.
I asked around and nothing was presenting itself as a solution other than, for me, the unspeakable. Quitting.
How do I even think twice about it? These are my children. For them all sacrifices are minimal. They are my girls- they come first.
But THIS job?
I would go round and round in my head incessantly.
I had to act fast. I had to find a solution. Would the school consider letting me have unpaid leave until the start of the new school year to find a trusting individual for my girls? I consulted both my principal and superintendent about what to do- would this be possible?
All you can do is ask- request the board allow me unpaid leave until the following school year. Hold my position until I can return. Why would they do that? Teachers are a “dime a dozen”, right? Yes, I have a good reputation in my district. Yes, many think highly of me… I’m sure not all… but what made me worthy of such special treatment?
Can’t hurt to ask. So I did. I submitted my request just in time for the December board meeting and waited, on pins and needles, for the response. I didn’t go to the meeting because I was still crying on a daily basis about the situation, and who needs to see that?
The meeting came. The meeting went. I anxiously awaited the decision and emailed my Super on the following school day.
“They tabled it.” She says.
Excuse me? They did what? What the hell does that even mean, I think to myself.
To table something is to not make any decision on it- just push it aside until a later date to perhaps deal with or perhaps not. It might get looked at again at the January board meeting.
So, like, they can just “not” make a decision if they don’t want to? Isn’t’ that what a school board is for, to make decisions?
What do I do now? I’m supposed to stop working as of the start of the New Year, a few weeks before the end of the 2nd semester… maybe if I can extend my stay they will be swayed to keep me.
Frantic discussion with my babysitter continued and she graciously is able to help me out until the middle of January, right before the next vote, right after the end of the 2nd grading period. A few more weeks…
“I think you should just take the full two years off,” my mother says to me for the umpteenth time. Well, maybe not that many times, but it’s come up before.
I have the opportunity to take a full two years off and retain my position as a teacher in my district. I had taken off from October 2014 up to the start of the school year 2015, but I still had time to apply for an extension, if I wanted.
Oh the irony.
“I love my sitter, Mom. She was great with my oldest, and I don’t want to lose her. There is no way she will be available if I walk away now. Who will watch the kids the following year when I do have to go back to work?”
My stomach is in absolute knots. I have two weeks left with my students, and they have no idea what is going to happen soon.
My kids and I are pretty tight- for the most part. I have, at this point, provided nicknames for about half of the ninth grade class, and had I the rest of the year to complete the task, would probably have finished off naming the rest. They loved it. They loved me, and I loved them back- for the most part.
Teaching is great, and the older I got, the less I cared about looking like a fool, so I was able to really put myself out there at times and just make an ass of myself, all for their benefit. At least I hope it benefitted them in some way. I held a high standard, accepted minimal crap, and I just felt like I was really on my game as a teacher, and now I was faced with saying goodbye, potentially for the long haul.
I meant to do it the day we came back from break, but I couldn’t. Didn’t feel it was the right moment. I finally did it later that week, after a small speech about the end of the semester coming up, and how it was going to be a big change… leading myself right into the big news.
1st and 2nd period I cried. Kids cried. I managed to hold it together for the rest of the day, but 9th-grade students, teens in their 14, 15, 16th years of age, had eyes welling with tears for the loss of a teacher.
Do you have any idea what that means?
I had to wrap my part of the year up with these students in a matter of two weeks and get them safely to a place where I could hand them off to my replacement, and send them on their educational journey without me as a potential life preserver.
My curriculum is awesome.
The year starts out with three units of ancient world literature where we study the cultures from which the literature comes, the philosophies behind those cultures and pieces of literature. There’s a lot of religion, a lot of history, and a lot of hard-core, dig deep texts to explore. It’s intense, and I love it. Then, we move to the study of the Jewish culture through Fiddler on the Roof, and then into the Holocaust with a text, Surviving the Angel of Death, some accompanying texts, and sometimes The Diary of Anne Frank. We do a project which is near and dear to my heart called, ‘The I Remember Project” whereby each student chooses a person affected by the Holocaust, or some other genocide sometimes, to research and create a Remembrance page. Essentially it is a scrapbook page that tells this person’s tale, shows his/her interests and life as well as the student possibly can. We hang these projects on the wall and create the Wall of Remembrance. This began in 2011, and took an incredible turn, and became the highlight of my teaching career without a doubt. Promptly after this intense unit we move into a genocide research project where the students are grouped, given an episode of 20th-century genocide to research other than the Holocaust, and about which to teach their peers. Students are astonished at the history of these atrocious events throughout history and lasting to this very day… and then comes the big question.
Why did we study all that “stuff” at the start of the year?”
Many kids have the big “aha” moment and realize that the cultures and beliefs we studied at the start of the year, are still fundamental to many in this world in which we live, are what many have been persecuted for throughout history and now. Questions about our roles in this and responsibilities to one another as humans come up. It is fantastic.
I have worked hard to build this format, this curriculum. I live it and breathe it. And now, I was walking away from it… possibly forever. That decision was in the hands of the school board.
January’s meeting came and went. No real decision. Deferment to our executive council for the union came into play. An M.O.U. stating, if passed, this did not set a precedent for fellow employees in the future was involved. In the end, no true consensus.
April 2016- “your resignation has been accepted effective January 20, 2016.”
It has been a rollercoaster ride I will never forget. I hold no judgment against anyone involved in the long, drawn out process that is my resignation. There are valid reasons for each party for doing what was done, for taking the time that was taken, for making the decision that was made. I get it.
This isn’t the only ride though. My emotional rollercoaster over what I want has been just as death defying a trip as the formal portion. It’s a two-for-one ride I had no idea I would be taking. I never did like amusement parks in the first place.
For weeks, I cried after I heard the news that I was losing my sitter. I didn’t understand fully the reason. I couldn’t even fully recollect the reasons I was given as the pure shock and emotion of the moment was more than I could register all at once. I later found out heath reasons were also an issue, and I can begrudge no one.
After the last days were finally over with my “kids”, the time with my babies began… again. I was at home with them day in and day out. Sometimes, I was at home with them day IN…AND…day OUT… but what an incredible journey this too has been. I have been given a chance I would never have taken for myself, to be their sole provider of care on a daily basis- to watch and see each step, each new lesson learned, all of it.
I’ve known all along that there are far worse problems to be working through, and have been cognizant of that all along. Teaching is not just a job to me. It is a part of who I am, but my girls are an even BIGGER part of who I am, and I’m damn lucky.