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Maternity Leave Prep: How to do Long-Term Prep without stress as a High School Science Teacher

maternity leave prep

Having a substitute is a hard enough process as a teacher, but it is especially hard as a high school science teacher. Why?? Because you KNOW there is a less than 10% chance that your sub will actually have any training in the content you teach – let alone to the LEVEL with which you teach it.

Now consider you are pregnant or adopting and attempting maternity leave prep. That means you need a long-term substitute for anywhere from 6-12 weeks, and that person will most likely be a non-science person. How are you supposed to prep your materials and hand over your classes for several months knowing that the person taking over will most likely have 0 training in what you teach??

It is NOT easy. I have been there in the midst of a complicated maternity leave prep. Not only was I prepping for a long-term leave, but I also had NO idea when that leave would happen because we were adopting. What was already a VERY slim chance of securing a science-trained substitute became entirely impossible without my school being able to even have specific dates to give potential hires.

I knew that most likely given the unknowns of my circumstances, my colleagues would be expected to cover my classes during their planning periods, at least until my school could secure someone for the full *unpaid* 12 weeks I was planning on taking. I hated knowing the burden I was putting on my coworkers, and I wanted my maternity leave prep to make THEIR lives as easy as possible.

Not to mention, the lives of my students! I hated ditching them at the last minute, knowing I wouldn’t REALLY be able to prepare them well before I was out – and having NO IDEA what I would be returning to (and what damage may or may not be done) while I was gone.

While my coworkers did everything to assure me that I wouldn’t care once I was out of my classroom, snuggling my newborn on 2.2 hours of sleep (and they were right, but more on that later) it was hard to believe them. My students were my WORLD and I LOVED my job. I didn’t want to feel like I was failing them or my department.

Arguably the most stressful part was the fact that this was all happening my first year teaching AP biology and having 5 preps to plan for. I was especially concerned about the impact my maternity leave would have on my AP students and their potential success on the exam. Plus my lack of experience teaching the subject made it impossible to plan ahead for a substitute – let alone, a non-science sub!!

What’s a teacher supposed to do then for maternity leave prep?? You barely have enough time to keep up with the regular day-to-day and weekly demands of your job, let alone work far enough ahead to write lesson plans for the 6-12 week period you might be gone.

I hear you, teacher friend, and I have been in your shoes. I think this is ESPECIALLY challenging when you are extremely Type A (and maybe even a littleeeee bit of a control freak 😅 ) like me and if it is your first baby.

But I have learned a LOT from my own maternity leave experience, my own recovery from my need to control EVERYSINGLETHINGALWAYS, and the last few years as I’ve grown and matured as a mom. I am currently preparing to take maternity leave for my 3rd baby, and I can say with 100% confidence that I am handling this WAY differently than I did the first time – and having a MUCH easier time letting go of my work responsibilities in order to be fully present with my family and the new tiny human on his or her way when the time comes (we love surprises!! #teamgreenalways)

I am going to share with you 4 practical steps to take as you embark on your maternity leave prep. But then I also want to leave you with a little pep talk, or word of encouragement if you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed prepping for your leave. But first, let’s start with the practical!

Maternity Leave Prep Step 1: Talk to your admin and department chair.

maternity leave prep

First things first, you need to have a conversation with your administrators as well as your department chair. You need to be extremely clear with what your plans are and find out what their expectations are of you. Know your contractual obligations (as in, what is TRULY required of you to keep your job) and what their expectations are (meaning, what isn’t necessarily required but what they hope for you to do) as you tackle your maternity leave prep.

You may need to do research before this conversation to see if you have any paid or unpaid leave. My entire maternity leave was unpaid, other than the 10 sick days I had saved up. Despite this, I knew I wanted to take 12 weeks and my husband and I worked tirelessly on the budget to make it financially feasible. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but I do think going into that admin meeting and being able to tell them how long you plan to be out is helpful for planning purposes.

Also if you have any sort of weird feelings about this conversation, don’t!!!! Let me tell you – your conversation can’t be weirder than mine was – ha!! Since we were adopting, I had to go into this meeting with admin sharing that we hoped we would be getting a baby this school year but had no idea when, and also would most likely have very little, if any, notice. Talk about making it challenging for everyone to plan!!

Other than sharing when and for how long you will be out, here are a few specific things to find out:

  • What amount of your leave is paid (as mentioned above)
  • Who is responsible for finding your substitute
  • What you are expected to leave in terms of lesson plans for the substitute
  • How much training are you expected to leave to support the substitute
  • What available funding there is for resources for the substitute*
  • When they would like you to notify parents and students of your absence

Most contracts do not legally require you to secure your own substitute or leave any plans whatsoever, so again, make sure you know what is LEGALLY required for you to do to keep your job, vs. what they would LIKE for you to also do. If it isn’t legally required, let it gooooo and don’t let yourself stress out about it!

I didn’t have to find my substitute, but you know what my admin ended up having to do? After the first two weeks of my colleagues covering for me, they hired 3 different substitutes to take over my classes. My schedule was so challenging with the 5 preps including AP biology that they couldn’t find anyone willing to teach it all (ha!) so I literally had a different person in my room nearly every class period. Not my preference but also, not my problem. Again, finding a sub wasn’t part of my required maternity leave prep so I let it goooo!

Knowing the depth and breadth of required lesson plans is really helpful. From my conversations with other educators, most just ask for a scope and sequence outline of what topics and/or book chapters you hope are covered while you are out for each course.

One thing I think that every teacher SHOULD take the time to leave though that doesn’t take require too much energy is a classroom guide – step 2 after talking to your admin!

Maternity Leave Prep Step 2: Make a guide to your classroom.

maternity leave prep

A few weeks ago I shared my tips for making sub plans for secondary science teachers. In that post, I recommended having a general substitute guide for your classroom. This could be a simple 1-2 page PDF that provides an overview of your rules, procedures, and how you run your classroom.

It should also include the bell schedule and classes you teach, neighboring teachers’ names and room #s who they can ask for help, student helpers in each class they can ask for help (again, see this post for more details on this), and rosters for each class. Make it as specific as you can for your maternity leave.

Be sure to include a description of your overall grading procedure and how you grade things. This is typically one of the hardest parts for long-term substitutes – ESPECIALLY if they aren’t trained in your subject area – so encourage them to grade mainly for completion. If they don’t have the content knowledge, they won’t be able to grade much for accuracy anyway!

Keep it simple. Decide on the MOST important procedures and routines you want them to maintain. I personally can’t NOT share all the things, so I made sure in the encyclopedia of instructions I left that I highlighted the absolute most important. And just accept when you come back you will have to re-teach your students how YOU run your classroom (don’t worry, they will be so excited to see you they won’t mind re-learning a few things!!)

I think including a QR code with a link to a video of you is also really helpful. If your situation has a lot of unknowns like mine did, you won’t be able to meet with your substitute in advance. Make a video tour of you walking through your classroom and showing them where things are and how you do things. It will be so helpful for them!

Maternity Leave Prep Step 3: Create an outline for each class.

maternity leave prep

I can’t say this enough – make an outline and KEEP IT SIMPLE. I recommend keeping it to one page per prep if you can. Make a list of what you would hope for them to cover while you are out. List any corresponding chapters in the textbook for them to reference or YouTube videos covering the content. Provide time estimates for how many days they should spend on each topic.

Hold this loosely, with minimal expectations for what they actually cover. This will set you up for less disappointment when you return.

If you already have a ton of resources they can use and implement simply without a lot of support from you, upload them to a Dropbox folder and link it in your outline. I made a folder for each prep, then had subfolders with unit titles of what I hoped they would cover. Within each unit folder, I had resources saved that I had listed on the outline. If they used them, great! If not, no worries.

If just reading this and thinking about letting go of this much control makes you sweat, let me tell you that I HEAR YOU. I felt the same way. This is why I even started writing up my units for my TpT store – I wanted to write them in enough detail for my own non-science maternity-leave substitutes.

If you ARE required to leave daily lesson plans and not just an outline, I HIGHLY encourage spending the money to purchase complete comprehensive units from a site like TpT. This will relieve such a huge burden on your plate and majorly reduce the workload involved in your maternity leave prep. Plus, then your substitute can email the seller/resource creator rather than YOU for help while you are gone!!

If you teach anatomy, biology, or physical science, you can check out all of my complete units here. This is also why I mentioned in step 1 *asking about available funding for resources*. If your school can’t find you a trained science sub, they may be willing to fork over a little cash to buy resources for your sub – especially if they know how challenging your content area is!!

It is worth asking. Worst case scenario, they say no! Need help asking? Here are my best tips for asking admin to purchase curriculum for you.

Maternity Leave Prep Step 4: Say GOODBYE and LET YOUR CLASSES GOOOO!

maternity leave prep

Last but not least, say goodbye by preparing your students and their parents. Send out an email to all parents and let them know the dates you will be unavailable for contact, and who they should contact if they need anything (this will most likely be your substitute and/or department chair).

Prep your students by telling them when and why you will be out and what your expectations are of them while you are gone.

Then set up an automatic reply on your email, delete it from your computer and phone, and LET YOUR CLASSES GO.

I can PROMISE YOU that the LAST thing you will have the energy to care about when you have a newborn is that one student who is always buck-wild in your 5th period. I didn’t believe it at first but my coworkers were right – having a new baby in the family is incredibly reorienting of your priorities – in the best way!

One last word of encouragement for you:

Please ENJOY this time GUILT FREE. ESPECIALLY if you are on unpaid leave – you should literally be doing 0 things school-related WHATSOEVER because you aren’t being compensated!!!

Even if your leave is paid, you DESERVE THIS TIME YOU WILL NEVER GET BACK!!! As teachers, we give SO MUCH of ourselves to our students. This is the one time we can REALLY say GOODBYE and put our families first. So do it!!! And don’t think twice about it!!

In the grand scheme of life, if your students learn absolutely nothing over the 6-12 weeks you are gone, then they will still survive.

We got the call from our adoption consultant that we had been picked by our son’s birth parents and he was born 7 weeks before the AP biology exam and 9 weeks before the end of the school year. I literally missed the last 3 units I was planning on teaching in AP (lol, yes, I was very behind) and ALL of the review I planned to do with them.

I missed an ENTIRE QUARTER of the year (my last day was the end of Q3 when grades were due). I came back just to grade final exams – which were a literal disaster if I am honest.

But guess what?? My AP students learned how to teach themselves the last bit of content, just like they would be doing in real college classes. And 80% of them passed the exam.

Was it clear on my final exams for my other 4 preps that my students basically learned nothing while I was gone? Yes. So I ended up only grading 75% of the content I was there for, and curved the rest. Everyone ended up with a grade in my class that reflected where they were when I left, and we all survived.

Most importantly, I enjoyed the first few weeks of my son’s life without thinking twice about school. And guess what? It was all there waiting for me when I did return.

I am going into this 3rd maternity leave planning to completely unplug for 12 weeks. I am doing all I can in advance for maternity leave prep and I am letting go of the rest. I will enjoy 12 full weeks of smelling like spit-up and being “nap-trapped” on the couch, and I can’t wait for it. My work will be there when I return and I am sure within a week, it will feel like I never left.

Teacher friends preparing for maternity leave, I AM ROOTING FOR YOU! If you need me, I am here for you (unless of course, I too, am on leave – ha!! Then you will receive a nice automatic reply from me.) Reach out to me with any questions or concerns or fears you have here!! I want to help you feel calm and not overwhelmed by your maternity leave prep. You deserve this time to enjoy your newest tiny human!!

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