The word makes me shudder, cringe and cower. Unless it is preceeded by the phrase, “You’ve come a long way,” I don’t want to hear about babies. Or pregnancies. Shower? It better involve a spout, steam, and a whole lot of whistling.
For me, there was a time when the utterance of the word “baby,” conjured rolls of sweet, pink chubiness, the smell of Pampers (before), and the thought of actually sneaking a taste of pureed pot roast with carrots before pulling the “here comes an airplane” line. (For the record, it tastes like dog food).
Babies used to mean goodness. And, they should.
But now, as a principal, I think of another word: Substitute. Actually, there are two more that go with it: Long and Term.
Sadly, I like babies. They are adorable and innocent bundles of fun who have yet to be tainted by episodes of Jersey Shore or Justin Bieber songs. If nothing else, they’re certainly job security. But, these are not the things I think of when a teacher tells me that she’s pregnant. Instead, I wonder how to replace her with a quaity educator for an extended period of time. And, unfortunately, there is no institutionalized mechanism for doing so. A teacher who has just become a mother should not have to worry if her students are actually learning, or what kind of a mess she’s going to find upon her return. Pregnancies should not scare class parents or principals, because we should be better prepared.
When administrators get word of a pending maternity leave, they start reaching for their connections to fill the position. Usually, the categories fall in this order:
- Retired Teachers
- Teachers on a Leave of Absence
- Certified Teachers (Who don’t have a job because there weren’t any)
- Certified Teachers (Who don’t have a job because nobody would hire them)
- People who can speak and breathe at the same time, and have never attempted a kidnapping.
Minor misdemeanor? Don’t leave just yet. I might just need you.
Obviously, I joke about the misdemeanor. But, the truth isn’t far off. Schools are still expected to provide exemplary instruction and to score record high levels of achievement on standardized assessments, reality be damned. However, elementary schools are dominated by women. Many schools, like mine, are full of women who love children, want to teach them all sorts of things, and enjoy watching them grow emotionally, physically, and academically. Perfect qualifications for a teacher.
And a mother.
This obvious correlation implies that a high rate of maternity leaves should not catch us by surprise. It might finally be time to take a look at this glaring weakness in our system. Althought there are some, there are not enough outstanding teachers sitting around waiting to substitute. Yet, there is no funding or consideration for meeting the need when the inevitable happens. And, just because we ignore the problem, doesn’t mean it will go away.
After all, only babies actually think that if they don’t see something, it doesn’t exist.