Pregnant Teachers

Back when I was a pregnant high school teacher in 1971, we all had premature babies. No, it wasn't the stress of teaching. It was the rule that women had to leave their jobs in the fifth month of their pregnancies. I actually taught through my seventh month and took maternity leave after spring vacation.

At the time, I didn't worry about what would happen to my students those last two months of school. I was more worried about survival. Being a conscientious teacher, I rarely missed a day of work. Thus, I thought I had accumulated enough sick leave pay to cover my expenses for the two months when my husband was still a student and we had no income.

Sadly, I soon learned that "pregnancy is not a disease" and I could not claim those sick days. I had to cash in my pension to survive, thus ensuring I would be unable to return to teaching unless I was able to pay it back. I guess it was easier to keep having babies than save up to buy back in, so I never returned to teaching high school.

So I do have lots of sympathy for pregnant teachers and am a firm believer in their right to return to their job after taking maternity leave. When I read about the Chicago school principal who gave pregnant teachers poor performance ratings to avoid having to allow them to return to their jobs, I was angered by her illegal and unfair discrimination. According to the Chicago Tribune, the principal asked a teacher who was nursing, "When will you be done with that?" and told a teacher who announced she was pregnant, "I can't believe you are doing this to me. You are going to be out right before (mandatory) testing!"

On the other hand, I kind of understood the principal's frustration. As a preschool director, the conversation I dreaded most was with a teacher of childbearing age who asked me, "Do you have a minute?" I knew as soon as she uttered those words, I would have to start scrambling to cover her maternity leave in a way that did the least amount of harm to the young kids in her care. I would be dealing with devastated children and upset parents. Upon her return, there would be frequent personal days taken to care for that baby when it was sick.

While pregnancy is definitely a blessing, I have seen from the perspective of a grandparent how this life event can impact children whose teachers go on maternity leave. Several of my grandchildren have had this happen. Yes, they survived. But sometimes it didn't make for an ideal year of school.

In second grade, two of my granddaughters were assigned to classes with teachers who were in the last trimester of pregnancy. In one case, it worked out as well as could be expected (pardon the pun). The teacher had her baby, the permanent building sub took over the class for 12 weeks, and the teacher returned. Granted, 12 weeks is like forever to a 7-year-old and it was hard to readjust to the original teacher, but the disruption was minimal considering.

Things did not work out as well for my other granddaughter. Her pregnant teacher developed complications, had to go on bed rest, and delivered a thankfully healthy but premature baby. Thus, whatever plans the principal had in mind flew out the window. A short-term sub was followed by a "permanent sub." Due to some sort of rule, the "permanent sub" was only allowed to stay for 10 weeks. The sub he had hoped to hire was not available at the time the pregnant teacher left, so the kids had to make do. Communication was non-existent, homework was inconsistent, and the kids were basically running the show. Then the pregnant teacher decided not to return. I totally get it, but by the time a new teacher was hired, my granddaughter had five different teachers in two months. Not ideal.

So yes, I get the principal's frustration. I understand why parents feel like they have lost the lottery when they meet a very pregnant teacher in September. I get how the kids suffer most in this scenario. And yet, the demands of modern life dictate that most families need two incomes to survive. And the rights of women in the workplace must be protected.

Unlike the Chicago principal, I accept the inconvenience of pregnant teachers as part of my solidarity with women as well as the law. As an administrator and as the grandmother of kids who had bumpy school years when disrupted by maternity leave, putting up with the challenge was worth it to protect the rights of women who have babies to return to their jobs.