Survive Before, During, and After TEACHER Maternity Leave

Like any first-time-parent rookie, I foolishly imagined that prepping my sub binder wouldn't take THAT long to prepare, and that during my leisurely six-week maternity leave, I would serenely cuddle the baby while getting caught up on blog posts, reading, PD, and other "me" tasks.

Ha. Very funny.

Though my maternity leave was joyful overall, it was a lot harder than I anticipated. Between crashing hormones, sleep deprivation, and moving physically slower than usual, it wasn't just lounging around for six weeks. (It didn't feel like "spring or summer break plus babysitting", as others had told me.)

Bottom line? You REALLY want your school life to be fully prepared for your absence, because you can't perfectly predict what you and your baby will need, and you won't want to put your newborn down to pick up your laptop instead.

Please learn from my mistakes (AND the things I'm SO glad I did) by reading this post and thinking about how you can survive AND thrive through this happy, messy new chapter in your life. Even if your situation looks different than mine, take the spirit of this list to heart to be proactive and ready for anything.

PRINT THIS FREEBIE: There's some overlap between the advice below and this checklist! You might also like my related blog post, Tips for Pregnant Teachers.

1. Start planning ASAP.
All of this takes longer than you think it will, EVEN if you're an organized Type-A person like me. This work isn't necessarily HARD, but it's time consuming, so start as early in your pregnancy as you can; finishing one assignment or set of notes a day might be all you have the energy for, anyway!

2. Prep for 8-10 weeks, not 6.
I was only on leave for 6 weeks, but I left enough materials for 8+ weeks in case I would need an unexpected c-section or need more time to recover. That way, I had zero anxiety about how the birth and recovery would go.

3. Talk to an admin early.
Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you (vs. your sub) in your absence. For example, some districts expect the sub to do all prep/planning; others expect the teacher to do that. I should have done this and didn't; during leave, I ended up doing more work on report cards from home than I actually HAD to, which was a small bummer. Ask your admin what the rules are instead of just talking to other teachers and following precedents that might be unnecessary.

Note: if you're American, you may want to understand FMLA laws and be clear on what the school can and can't ask of you during leave.

4. If possible, meet with the sub in person beforehand.
My sub was gracious enough to spend a day with me in the classroom. Not only did she learn the ropes (and see our norms), but she got to ask questions, I got to ask what kind of notes she WANTED me to leave, and I didn't have to write down as much in my sub plans, because we had talked about it verbally.

5. Make plans that are easy to set up, teach, AND grade.
We think so much about sub plans that anyone could easily TEACH that we don't always think through the setup and the aftermath (grading). I left behind detailed instructions about how to use the projector/ document camera, as well as where things were stored. I also tried to choose assignments that were more objective in nature with clear-cut answer keys, so that the sub wouldn't be put in a subjective grading situation with any students or parents. (Plus, my students relaxed when we told them it was MY answer key being used.)

Here's what I left for my sub:

6. Prep her for report cards, semester changes, or high-stakes moments.
Make sure she has ample notes about what to do, when, how long they will take, and how to get help, especially if there will be standardized testing in your absence.

7. Share hard copy AND digital.
I made a "little black binder" of my printed curriculum (everything to teach and in what order), AND I shared most of my Google Drive folders with her. I had also given her a list of my logins so she could access Edmodo, Quizlet, and my typical tech tools. Even though she didn't NEED all of it, I felt better knowing that she could access what she needed if something came up.

8. Make guidelines for how and when she can call you.
This one is totally up to you guys. Do you want to be totally left alone, or do you want her to email and/or text you if she has questions? (Also, see #3 with FMLA.)

9. Give her a network of helpers.
This applies to trustworthy student helpers (at least one per class period) as well as teachers she can go to for a variety of student or faculty issues.

10. Inform parents.
Follow your school's social norms for this; my principal sent a letter home to parents, but if you need to do this, ask other teachers for advice. Make sure they know who to contact with questions in your absence.

11. Keep your desk clean (ish)
I was paranoid during my whole ninth month that baby would come early, so every night, I left my desk clean, piles organized, and everything ready to go, "just in case", before I went home.

12. Make her first day joyful.
Leave jolly ranchers for the kids AND a treat for your sub so that everyone can celebrate on your first day gone. (A baby is a happy occasion, right?!)

13. Be honest with the kids.
Make sure they understand that you will miss them, but you don't know exactly when you will be back. (Don't go into gross detail, but my 7th and 8th graders understood that my return date depended on several factors, so they were able to be a little more patient.)

14. Leave an annotated student roster.
Either verbally or in writing, let the sub know whatever is important about each child - not just special needs, but tips for how to get the best interactions with each one and what  struggles to anticipate (including how YOU typically deal with them).

15. Help the kids introduce themselves.
I had the students fill out a survey sheet so they could say whatever they wanted to tell the sub in their own words. (Plus, these answers could have changed since your beginning of the year surveys, right?)

16. Leave notes about special situations.
If there will be an assembly, food drive, field trip, or other unique event, either tell her what to do OR tell her who she can go to.

17. Do NOT promise to do anything while you're on leave.
I made the mistake of over-promising what I would get done while at home. I thought I would have time to give rough draft feedback on student Google docs (ha) and imagined all these webinars and books I would catch up on for PD... yeah, right. Remember that you're not yet at your physical OR mental best for a while, and don't create expectations for yourself or others that you can't guarantee.

18. Have easy plans ready for your first week back.
Friend, sleep deprivation alone will make you want to take it easy. Even if you have a good sleeper, you have to physically re-adjust to early mornings, standing a lot, peeing infrequently, and eating on a schedule. Be gentle on yourself with your first week of plans, okay?

19. Use TpT and your colleagues.
Don't reinvent the wheel or make your sub plans harder than they have to be. Get copies from your colleagues if you can, and go to TpT to pick up whatever lessons and units you need. (You have enough OTHER baby prep to do!)

Don't push this off and say you'll do them later "when you have time". It is NO fun to be home on leave and feel like you have homework or unfinished business hanging over your head!

21. Set up your "vacation" auto-reply email.
This was the one school task that I did in the car on the way to my induction. Also, try not to check your inbox as often as usual! Truthfully, I still checked my email (mainly because unread emails in my iPhone mail app bothered me), so if you need to disconnect an app, do it.

22. Do nothing, or as little as possible. 

Answer questions only in the agreed-upon manner. Focus on your body and your baby, and let your mind stay in the moment.

(Side note: If you're still pregnant, you might be wondering what you WILL do all day. The answer is that you might still read or do "me" tasks, BUT everything will take longer than usual the first few weeks. ***)

23. Decide what photos, videos, or FaceTime you want to send to your class (and faculty). 
My sub set up Skype so that the baby and I could say hi, especially since I didn't want to bring the baby to school until he was a little older and had his first round of vaccines. (School is a germ factory, friends! Don't take the baby before he's ready!)

24. Don't pack up your maternity teacher clothes too soon. 
Even if you have a SWEET metabolism and lose weight quickly, you'll likely be an "in-between" size for a little while. I kept a box in my closet and slowly retired my maternity clothes piece by piece as I shrunk. 

25. If possible, have a transition meeting (or phone call) with the sub for re-entry.
My sub was kind enough to visit me, bring me student work that was/wasn't graded, and catch me up on everything I needed to know. That way, I hit the ground running my first day back with a little less dizziness.

26. Don't rush back to your normal speed and workload.
If you can, maybe take a week off of your after-school club and give yourself a grace period to ease back into things.

27. Write a recommendation letter (and/or a thank you note)
Depending on how the sub did (and what she's looking for at this point in her career), ask yourself if a rec letter or thank you note might be in order.

28. Be ready for working mom emotions.
Assuming that you have to return and finish the school year (and you didn't have the baby in, say, April or May), you're going to experience working-mom woes (and joys). 

Part of you will be glad to be back, interact with students and adults, and get a break from newborn care (for example, being able to use both hands to do whatever task you feel like, as opposed to doing things one-handed when the baby permits it). 

However, you may also miss your child, worry about his/her care during the day, and feel a combination of emotions. And that's okay, too. Just don't be shocked if you feel differently about it than you anticipated you would.

29. Minimize what you bring home (as much as you can).
At least at first, you're going to come home feeling August levels of tired (you know, that back-to-school period when you're physically acclimating again?), and you're going to want to spend quality time with baby instead of grading. So work out whatever you must (grading an extra hour before you leave?) to truly GO HOME at the agreed-on time and be physically and mentally present.

Is there anything else I forgot? Tell me in the comments! 


  1. I would add to set up for one of your colleagues to act as their mentor and check in and be available for questions.

  2. I would also add to purchase a thank you gift for your sub.