Returning to Teaching after Maternity Leave
I am writing this post in hopes of helping any other teachers who happen upon my blog and are looking for advice about returning to work after a maternity leave. It is an anxious, emotional time, and I hope I can help ease your transition by sharing about my experience.
At the beginning of this year, I missed the first 12 weeks because I was out on maternity leave. This means I didn’t get to set up my room or meet my students until we were well into the school year. On top of all that, it was a new position for me, so I really had NO idea what I was coming back to. A new grade, a new age level, new material, new room, new everything. It was a lot to take in.
Luckily for me, I had an amazing substitute teacher who made everything so helpful and efficient for me. Additionally, my district gave us 3 overlap days where we were both in the room – that helped with the transition immensely. On the first day, I simply introduced myself to each class and sat in the back to observe the atmosphere. By the second day, he was still teaching, but I became a support in the room, traveling amongst the students and asking questions, listening, and assisting. By the third day, I was leading the lesson while he supported. On the fourth day, I was all alone but feeling confident.
Throughout this post, I have shared my personal choices and experiences, including what worked well for us and what is (and continues to be) a struggle. Feel free to ask questions or share your own experience in the comments – I’d love to learn and do better!
My husband and I chose to leave our daughter in a daycare center while we work. I know there are many different options for childcare, and people tend to turn up their nose when we say we chose a daycare. However, I chose to focus on the positives of daycare: my daughter will be cared for by certified staff, there will always be multiple adults on hand, she will be exposed to learning activities and many different kinds of people (and germs!), and she will be socialized for school.
Leading up to the first day of daycare, I took my daughter to the center a few times and just sat in the infant room with her. I did this so we could both get use to the atmosphere and the people. It gave me a chance to observe the routines and to ask a lot of questions. The staff said they didn’t mind (I hope they meant it!) and even encouraged me to come as many times as it took to feel comfortable. And each time I came in, I brought in more supplies for her drawer (diapers, wipes, outfits, creams, pacifiers, etc.) so that I wouldn’t be burdened with that ask on the first, hectic day. By the way that’s a big theme in my life – prepare, plan, do things in small chunks, and get it done before a deadline.
At first, sitting in the room was terrifying. There were babies crying and so much activity. I felt I had made a huge mistake. I wanted to quit my job and stay home forever. But then I got a hold of myself (and my crazy postpartum emotions) and became more settled with the idea the more I visited and self-talked. Everything would be okay. This is a good thing for everyone – mom and baby.
It is a very strange feeling to leave your child in the hands of someone else, all so you can go to your classroom and take care of other people’s babies. But this is my calling.
I have to tell you that I am so grateful that my husband does the drop-off each morning. If I had to do it, I would always arrive at work a total basket case (that’s if I would actually able to detach myself from my daughter and leave the daycare building). I do the pick-up, and it is definitely the best part of my day.
A big tip I have for you: Do NOT call in the middle of the day to see how your child is doing. I fell into this trap on my first day back, because I wanted to make sure my daughter was doing well on her first day, too. I couldn’t even make it through the phone call without crying. For me, it is best to just keep busy and let the professionals do their job. I had to have faith that if they needed me for anything, they would contact me.
The First Day
The first day – okay week – is THE hardest. People mean well, but everyone will ask you trigger questions like, “What’s it like to be back?” and “Who has your daughter?” and my favorite, “How was it leaving your daughter today?” I cried each time someone asked me any of these questions. Hormones, man. I sat in the bathroom and cried during passing time. It was hard. When the bell rang at 3:05, all you could see was a big blur behind me as I bee-lined it to the parking lot and attempted to follow all traffic laws on my way to pick her up from daycare. It will get easier. REPEAT: It will get easier. Everyone told me that, but I had to experience it for myself. Now I take my time leaving. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands before I leave work (because I won’t get a chance when we get home!).
Focus on your job and why you are there. Try not to think about your baby. You need to stay in the moment. Your baby is in good hands, and you are needed here, now, to take care of these babies. It will be okay, and it will get easier!
I have lots of routines to help me get through life, and this should be no different. I quickly figured out a routine that worked for all of us to help make the nights and mornings go as smoothly as possible. This is survival, people!
Each night, I put my daughter to bed around 6:30pm. Then, I immediately wash and reset the bottles for the next day and pack them in her lunch bag in the fridge. I add any notes or supplies she may need right in the bag so it is ready to go. I pair up all of her clothes when I wash them on the weekend so her outfits are ready to grab-and-go in the mornings:
For myself, I also make my lunch, set out my clothes, and take a shower. I used to take 1 to 1.5 hours to get ready in the morning (let’s be honest, I used to putz. I checked my email, did some house work, etc. Not anymore!). Now, I can get ready in 20 minutes flat. This is important, because you don’t know how your morning will go. Will she be sick, sad, or needy? Will you just NEED a cuddle? Be ready for anything. Preparing the night before is essential to having a smooth morning.
After I’ve gotten all of her things and my things ready, I spend about 20 minutes TOPS straightening up before bed, because it makes me feel good. Then I tackle my nightly chore from the next section (Housework and Errands), and I’m done.
For my own sanity, I attempt to go to bed as close to my daughter as possible. My goal is to be asleep by 10pm, and my alarm is set for 6am. This way, I am lucky to get 8 hours of sleep between all of the night feedings and wake ups. You have to preserve your sleep! Make it a priority. Skip all non-essential things and just S.L.E.E.P. It is how you survive being a teacher and a parent – two incredibly draining and demanding jobs.
Housework and Errands
I have also had to adjust the way I run our house. I used to do almost everything on the weekends – cooking, cleaning, and chores. Now, however, I want to covet that as family time (and down time). To that end, I have made a schedule where I do a little bit every day, like the old adage of eating an elephant. I also try to run short errands right before I pick up my daughter from daycare. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where I will take her on the errands, but right now it’s easier to do this way and just leave her in daycare an extra half hour.
Also RE: Amazon Prime / Amazon Mom: JUST DO IT. Seriously. It makes your life so much easier.
Here is an example of our weekly schedule, designed to free up our weekend time (Do I actually get to all of these things? No, but I do try):
- My Laundry
- Clean Shower
- Clean toilets
- Bathroom counters
- Wash towels
- Vacuum / mop
- Windex glass
- Disinfect Kitchen
- Clean out fridge and microwave
- Bathroom floors
- Change sheets
Saturday & Sunday
- Daughter’s Laundry
We have tried to make grocery shopping a family activity, as well. My daughter really likes all the sensory experiences of a grocery store.
During weekend nap times, I cook. This is how I SURVIVE, people. I make all of our lunches on the weekend so they are ready to grab-and-go. I also try to make a casserole or dinner for the evenings. But honestly, I usually don’t have time for dinner and just skip it (oops). This preparation saves a huge amount of time and money throughout the week.
Grading and Working At Home
What I have to say about this is short and sweet: FORGET ABOUT IT. You will no longer do any schoolwork at home. Oh, you’ll have good intentions. You’ll bring home a bag full of things to do, emails to check, etc. But you won’t do it. Nope. You’re exhausted, and you miss your baby. My best advice is what I have learned to do – do not leave work until you have done everything that MUST be done by tomorrow. Emphasis on must – you do have to stop and leave at some point. Maybe you can finish grading those papers tomorrow? Prioritize. Just don’t bring it home. It will sit in your bag / car and it will haunt you.
As a new parent, I find that I have a new perspective on my role as teacher. I have done a lot better job of communicating with parents, now. I also try my best to include them on as many decisions as possible. I always thought I was doing a good job with this, but now I see that I could do even better. Even though my students are ‘grown up’ 11-year-olds, their parents still like to hear nice things and be kept involved. At this age, many parents begin to start distancing themselves from the school in hopes of encouraging and allowing more independence from their children. I do my best to respect that, but also see that information is always welcomed.
As a new parent, I also see that I have so much more empathy and patience for my students. I love them all, each one, but now I also see them as someone’s baby. Everyone is someone’s baby!
- You will be awesome
- This is what you were born to do. You will rock it!
- Keep chocolate in your desk
- Bring in pictures of your baby to display
- Summer will eventually be here!
JenAugust 12, 2016 at 7:42 am (7 years ago)
ShelbyNovember 13, 2016 at 5:24 pm (7 years ago)
I just wanted to say this post helped me so much to feel confident that I will survive going back to work after maternity leave. Our situation sounds so very similar and I’ve been absolutely dreading going back because I am so in love with my son. Thank you for sharing your experience!
EmmaNovember 17, 2016 at 12:10 am (7 years ago)
Thank you for this post!!!!! It has helped ease my anxiety so much. I am going to miss my son so much but I know I’m doing what is best for his future. I’ve been having anxiety all night thinking about leaving my son and this is the only post that has FINALLY eases my mind (as much as it can be eased)! Thank you again.Reply
MeghanNovember 29, 2016 at 4:00 pm (7 years ago)
Thank you for this post! I go back to work tomorrow and I feel like I have so many questions of how things are going to run smoothly both at school and at home. I already feel my perspective changing as you mentioned in your post. Your post made me feel at ease; thank you for sharing your thoughts!Reply
MegDecember 13, 2016 at 10:44 pm (6 years ago)
Thank you for this post! I go back to work right after the holidays after taking the beginning of the year off and your post really helped. I love how you posted what chores you do on each day. So simple! Thank You!Reply
JessDecember 19, 2016 at 7:56 pm (6 years ago)
I SO appreciate your advice and insights! I, too, am an English and reading teacher, and I return to work the end of January. My baby will be 8 months old, and I am terrified, devastated, guilt-ridden, etc. at the thought of leaving her in daycare. My first week back will be a full 5 days, and it will be a difficult transition for both of us. Your post was a good reminder that many moms go through this, they ALL survive it, and their children are not traumatize for life!Reply
kdembroJanuary 1, 2017 at 8:42 pm (6 years ago)
Goodness, you are absolutely correct! It’s SO HARD on us initially, but we all live through it and come out better on the other end. Your child will learn to love daycare, and you will learn to love returning to the professional world! I’ll be thinking about you at the end of January. And you’ll have an incredible summer with your 1 year old!
irmaFebruary 27, 2017 at 11:07 pm (6 years ago)
Thank you for posting! I return back to work this Wednesday and I have already had several melt downs.
HannahMay 22, 2017 at 2:32 am (6 years ago)
It’s nice to encourage other working moms, but ignoring your initial impressions and concluding that daycare is “best for mom and baby” is unfortunate. Your first impression of it being too much- too many screaming babies and too much activity- was right. I worked in “high quality” daycare with certificated staff for 5 years and it really is not the right environment for an infant. Socializing for school is an excuse- children don’t need to be socialized in a group environment when they are infants and toddlers, and one on one with a good caregiver is much more beneficial.Reply
AmandaSeptember 17, 2017 at 9:33 pm (6 years ago)
Thank you so much. I am sitting here, the day before I go back to teaching and I feel so lost. I am also teaching something new in a new school. I am going to just take the time on the first day to get to know the kids because I only have one overlap day with my AMAZING sub.Reply
Tyris HallSeptember 19, 2017 at 6:34 am (6 years ago)
I do not know if you are a religious person…I respect your personal decisions if not, but I must say that God has led me to YOU! I would consider myself to be a “Type A” person like yourself (abiding by schedules, establishing routines, over planning, trying to anticipate the unknown)…and so far after countless hours of searching the net to find a teacher who I can learn from relate to that person is now you! We have so much in common. I am a new mom of a precious 6 week old baby girl. I am a first year teacher! So I have not met my students or been around my classroom since back in July (before the school year began). I am planning to teach 4th graders 🙂
You give me hope that I can actually do this! I mean of course at this point I have no choice, right. I must say, the biggest thing that you mentioned that really hit me was the fact that I probably will not have time or even desire to work at home. This is something I wondered about and thought I may be able to do…but as you laid out the reality…I now have doubts and will probably result to doing as much as possible while at the school.
As far as my first day back, there will not be anyone there (i.e the substitute) to help transition me into the classroom. It will be first day ALL ME! I’m not sure if you’ve been providing others with advice or insight on this…but I’d love it if possible. My struggle and frustration comes from wanting to treat the first day as a “Get to know the students and teacher day” but also I have to keep in mind that this is the middle of the school year and they are already in the “learning mode” from the sub. Any help is much appreciated!Reply
AimeeOctober 26, 2018 at 5:46 am (5 years ago)
How did it go when you went back? I’m about to do the same thing (back to 4th grade) in November. I’m super stressed. It is my old room but I don’t know what’s going on there exactly and how the kids will act etc.
TaylorOctober 17, 2018 at 11:08 am (5 years ago)
Wow, did I need this! The other comments make me feel so much better too.
It’s so good to know there are other teaching moms out there (like you said, 2 of the most draining jobs)…and they are killing the game! 🙂
My responsibilities all seemed like too much until I read this. A sub that I’ve never met has started my school year for me, and this is my first baby. Now I feel like I can manage my house, love teaching my students, and still get to spend much needed time with my baby girl and husband.
Thank you – and keep doing the amazing things you are doing!Reply
S.MooreJanuary 1, 2019 at 12:11 am (4 years ago)
I am returning to work in 7 days and I’ve cried everyday since Christmas Day (darn hormones!) at the thought of returning. Between my husband and myself we have 7 children including our sweet 4 month old. The thought of leaving her seems unbearable.. I haven’t experienced this before, I wasn’t teaching when I had my previous children. My question to all you brave teacher-mama’s is how did you bond with your students coming in so late in the year? I teach second grade which should make it somewhat easier because they are just all around sweet and eager to please but I am just looking for advice on how to create an atmosphere with bonding relationships when I’ve been gone for the first part of the year. Thank you!Reply
JessicaJanuary 6, 2019 at 6:46 pm (4 years ago)
This is such a great post. I love the sample schedule you laid out for your blog. You’re the best! I go back in 7 days and Im so comfortable now that Ive read your reassuring words of wisdom