Teaching is such a complex, involved profession that it can be a bit daunting for some to think about when they might take time off to have their own kids.
The school year is segmented, and each individual segment can be chock-full of stuff that needs doing, and needs doing by *you*.
On top of that, we grow attached to our student-kids, and the thought of just upping and leaving them one day can feel incredibly selfish, filling you with both personal and professional guilt. *You’re* their teacher, how can you just go? Even for something as personal and exciting as having your own baby?
Of course, there are some who don’t feel any of that guilt, and having their own baby takes immediate and complete precedence over their job – if that’s you, then this article probably isn’t hugely relevant. You likely don’t particularly care when in the school year your bub is born, and that’s 100% valid too!
But for those who view this question with a touch of anxiety, let me give you the short answer first. The tldr: version, if you will. It’s something my own prac-supervisor told me some 9 years ago, when I was a young women with dreams of being a HOD and also having my own family.
The Short Answer
There *is* no right time to have kids.
Teacher or otherwise. It doesn’t matter what job you do, there is no right time. There’s just the time that feels a bit more right than before. There will always be something that pops up that makes it seem that right now possibly isn’t the best – it could be something job-related or not.
My only personal advice would be to ensure you have some form of financial security before falling pregnant, if possible. I understand that is incredibly able-ist, but parenthood is difficult enough without starting out in an unstable financial situation.
But back on to teaching. Let’s dive in to the long answer for this tricky situation.
The Long Answer
Let me start this off by saying that you may not be able to plan your pregnancy at all. It’s quite rare to fall pregnant on the first try, and remember that at least one quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So understand that you can plan till you’re blue in the face, and it still may not work out that way.
There are myriad reasons why you might feel like you need to plan your pregnancy timing as much as possible. Each is totally valid – I’m certainly not here to shame anyone for their choices. You gotta do what’s right for you!
In this long answer section, I’m only going to focus on the teaching stuff that may impact your ideal timing – of course there will be a thousand personal aspects that come into it too, like other family member’s birthdays, work that a partner might do, upcoming moves etc.
Did you know there’s a Staffroom Stories podcast? You can check out the website directly here, find transcripts and show notes here, and subscribe through Google Podcasts, the Podbean App, Amazon Music/Audible, Samsung, and Podchaser. I’ll update when it’s approved for Spotify and Apple! The trailer is live now, and our first episode goes live Tues 17th May, so keep an eye out!
Paid Parental Leave
If you have access to any form of paid parental leave from your employer and/or government, you will want to investigate exactly how it works.
Firstly you’ll need to see how long you need to work before you can access it (12 months continuous work, for example). There may be special circumstances that you need to work around, or other considerations to take into account such as working between different education sectors.
Then you’ll need to see how long it extends for, and if you can take unpaid leave on top.
Also consider if it is the same amount of income as you’re currently earning, or if it’s a reduced amount, and how that may impact your family finances. Can you take the leave at full pay, or half pay? Can you defer or advance payments?
Here in Queensland, Aus, our Department leave is effectively paused over the school holidays, where we are paid at our usual rate. So if you’re like me and end up with a baby around the very end or beginning of the year, you can actually maximise your time off to include as many holiday periods as possible. For me, my paid maternity leave started right at the end of the school year, and I opted to be paid at a half-pay rate in order to double the length of paid leave I received. I was paid on that for a week or so, then went back to my normal pay over the 5 week summer break, then back to maternity pay during the term. This repeated over the Easter break and the mid-year break. I essentially managed to stretch out my paid maternity leave by 9 additional weeks, purely because of the holidays it fell across. I then had access to our government parental leave pay, so this took me almost to a full year of parental paid income, before taking some unpaid leave in order to start back at the beginning of the next school year.
So do some digging, some financial planning, and some organisation work and see if there is an ideal time financially for your bub to be born.
Perhaps you are quite involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities, and having a baby at a particular time of year would just be a disaster. Maybe you’re the lead organiser for the school musical, or the national sporting team, or the career progression discussions.
In those cases, you may want to aim for bub being born a few months after the event, so that you can see it to fruition and then pass the baton along to the next leader.
While most countries have legislation that prohibits pregnancy from impacting you applying for and getting a job or promotion, we know the infuriating reality is still not quite there yet.
If you’ve got your eye on a particular role or promotion that you know is coming up soon, you may want to secure that before starting (or building upon) your family. Or you may decide to let it pass this time, and make your family changes while upskilling so that the next time you’re a complete shoo-in.
Be aware though that starting a family can drastically shift your priorities and career goals, and that is something that can be extremely difficult to adjust to. Before having my own babies, I was dead set on becoming a Head of Department. But then I took a year off for my first born, went back to work for a year and a bit, then took most of a year off for my second. That time away from the classroom, and the change in my dynamic at home, has caused me to happily drop that dream. My plate is as full as I’d like at the moment, and I know for me that having the extra responsibility of that role would not fulfil me more.
Having your own kids after being a childless teacher for a while can be quite a shock to the system. I used to have all the time in the world to dedicate to crafting brilliant lessons and taking on extra responsibilities, and my mental load was free to be filled with my student-kids. Now though, my priority is absolutely my own biological children (I imagine it’d be the same if you have foster, adopted, or step-children too). It’s caused something of an identity crisis that I am just now coming to terms with. So be prepared for that too.
No matter what grade level or subject you teach, you’ll likely be sad to leave them part way through the year. I was lucky enough with my first to leave right at the end of the year, then miss the entire next year, and start back at the beginning of the following school year. This meant no dropping part way through, and I really valued that. With my second, I left half way through term one, and that was a bit hard on everyone involved. I felt a little disconnected, knowing that I wasn’t staying around for long. And so did the students I think.
If you have seniors, you may want to try to plan around their major assessment items – either so that you miss them entirely, or you’re there until just afterwards.
You may want to try plan your leave to start when a school holiday block starts, so your replacement can start fresh at the beginning of a term. Or at another logical break point.
Of course mitigating circumstances can throw all this type of planning into the bin. You may need to start your leave early, for example.
Just remember that students are resilient, and if you give them ample warning they will adapt and adjust to the changes well. I mean, some will literally not care, but some may find change extremely challenging, or become quite attached to you, and find this transition uncomfortable. Support them as best you can, but also focus on your own needs. If possible, try and have your replacement come in for a day (or few) to meet the students, see them in action, and get a feel for the school if they haven’t worked there before. This will benefit everyone involved, even if it is additional work above and beyond a traditional hand-over.
If you are leaving part way through the year, be sure to hand over any important information about your students to your replacement. Anything that may help them settle in faster and smooth the transition. This could be things like tricky home situations, hobbies and interests, strengths and weak spots in the curriculum or the way they learn, even their favourite reward or most effective correction technique.
For some teacher though, handing over your class(es) can feel like a huge relief. Sure you may feel sadness and guilt, but walking out on that last day can be a bit of a release and allow you to truly focus on your and the pregnancy, before bub is born.
The Long and Short of it
Basically, there is no wrong or right time. You can plan as best you can, and it can still go haywire. You may feel guilt and sadness at leaving your students, but also find the joy in this next journey of life. Make sure to take plenty of pictures of bub so that when you do return to the classroom you can share your bundle of joy with your student-kids!
What, if anything, impacted your pregnancy timing? Let us know in the comments below!
Original image of me, taken by my husband.