It’s sort of an American punchline that our educators, the teachers who we depend on to shape and empower our children, have long been woefully underpaid. Budgets slashed, overcrowded classrooms, paltry salaries, and even fewer resources…
My dear friend Erin has been teaching English at a Northern California high school for nearly a decade. And she’s the type of teacher all the kids hope to get: funny, caring, hip, and occasionally willing to turn a blind eye if you happen to be chewing gum. Each semester she opens up her Speech class by singing a popular song to students, before charging each of them to do the same…with the idea that “if you can sing in front of your peers, you can speak in front of them.” (She opened the 2016-2017 school year with “Rapper’s Delight.” Obvs).
When she welcomed her beautiful daughter to the world two years ago, she was shocked by the lack of resources and benefits available to her as a teacher. In order to enjoy a proper maternity leave, she would have had to start planning for it her very first day on the job. While that seems ridiculous, it would have been doable…if any of that information was available or even brought to light! But no one told her a damn thing. It turned out that the system in which she worked to support the children that came through her class, didn’t want to support her. In fact, it almost felt like it was tricking her. And it should be noted that California is said to have some of the most mama-friendly maternity leave policies in the country!
It can cause many of us to wonder why people even want to pursue a career in education anymore more? What’s in it for them? Luckily for all of us, there are still people like Erin out there who want to teach and choose to teach because, like my friend, they truly care for the kids in their classrooms.
This is Erin’s Story:
“Having a child is a beautiful thing, so beautiful and life-altering that the state awards us with paid time off to dote on the newest love of our lives (read with heavy sarcasm). This is an idealistic way of looking at a period I often refer to as the blackout period. Yes, a direct comparison to the blackouts one encounters after indulging in a solo bottle of vino. I am a teacher in the state of California and the reality of maternity leave from a logistical, financial, and personal standpoint leaves a lot to be desired (pun intended).
My pre-maternity leave research began when I wasn’t even sharing the news of my pregnancy. I think the HR woman at the district office knew before my nearest and dearest. Trying to find the detailed and very specific information about maternity leave is exhausting and nearly impossible. There is no one-stop-shop for this material. The lack of direct access to and knowledge about maternity leave left me feeling as though I was the first woman in the district to inquire about these benefits; a holy-grail of sorts and I, the sole adventurer. After the mountain of paperwork, googling, meetings at the district office, and dealing with union reps, I was told that I am “allowed” to go out at 36 weeks with a Dr. note and 6 weeks after my delivery date unless I had a cesarean; then I would get 8.
Oh, and I forgot about the “two free days.” Yep, you heard it here, the state gives you the day of your child’s birth and the following day as free–not counted against your leave. (Yes, still drenched in sarcasm). At first glance: Fantastic, paid for up to 8-10 weeks, maybe even longer if my doctor deems it necessary. Not so much.
The sweet deal educators get is to first use every single sick day that has been accrued through my career (Leaving me with zero days when I came back to work…that’s a sick joke). After the precious days run out then I get my salary minus the substitute teacher cost for that day which is over $100. So if there are 20 working days in a month, I would get my salary minus the $2000-plus the district uses to pay my sub. Everyone knows teachers rank on Forbes so that is fine, right? Ha.
Even that could have been manageable because I had the guidance to sign up for disability leave insurance. So during the period after my sick leave ran out, the insurance made up the difference to get me to 75% of my salary. After the allotted time is up, if the mother wants any non-medical related extra time adjusting to life with the baby that is up to the family. The mother can then choose to forfeit her salary and have return rights to her job for a year and insurance should still be covered because of the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) coverage…or so I thought, the district found a loophole.
I am a planner. I found out I was pregnant in January and my baby was due in October. My husband and I decided that I would begin the next school year full time, but after christmas break I would come back part time. This made me a part time employee with an 83 percent contract for the following year. I needed to stay above 75% contract to keep my insurance, which my family relied on because my husband is self-employed. Long story longer, because I had the foresight to pre-plan the district loopholed me. They said that since I was not full time for that following year, I would not qualify for FMLA coverage.
Before the birth of my sweet babe, I had been teaching for 9 years. Each year I was allotted 10 sick/ personal necessity days. So if I never took time off I would have essentially had 90 paid days that would have come in very handy. I wish someone would have told me, “Never ever ever use your time. Bring your germs to school, the kids do it, you should too, don’t take long weekends and forget about vacations.” But I live in the real world where people actually get sick or have other commitments they need to tend to on a yearly basis. I did not waste my sick time, but I believe I had only about 21 days saved when I went out for my maternity.
Due to complications, I ended up having to have a c-section 13 days early. The baby and I were healthy, but I was a little resentful. The district was already winning! I just lost 10 days of my maternity leave since she ended up coming on the third day into my pre-birth “vacation.” Therefore my return date to school had moved from December to November. I struggled with these first months of her life and thankfully my doctor saw that I could use the extra time at home so she signed me out until January. Could I have still used more time at home trying to feel more like me and waiting for that strong bond to form? Definitely. But that was not an option, because I didn’t qualify for FMLA anymore (after qualifying for 8.5 years prior). I needed my insurance and didn’t want to risk losing my placement. So back to work I went, with a medela cold pack, a double pump and days begging my co workers to cover my classes for 15 minutes so I could pump because I needed to boost my milk production.
So what is the take-away of all of this? If you aren’t willing to pack up and move to Denmark with 52 weeks of leave at your full wage, just go work for one of those tech companies, like Google or Facebook because they know how to treat new parents (not just the mamas). Google it.”
Would love to hear how other working mamas managed maternity leave! Share your story and comment below!