I’ve spent the past several years considering how to best advocate for our educators, educator needs, and completing advocacy work from a local level to a wider state or national level. Everyone’s advocacy work looks slightly different then the next and the issues you get involved with can change based on the climate of your workplace to the community you teach in. Some issues you might find yourself advocating for and just a few years ago you would have been totally naive to the larger complexities of the issue. This is where I have found myself in recent years…
When I left my career in the private sector and became a teacher I was still single. I happened to notice in my new employer’s handbook that maternity leave and short term disability were not something the employer covered, unlike my previous career which did cover paid maternity leave and paid for short term disability beyond the 12 weeks (until long term disability hit). I realized that all of my fellow educators were taking leave for babies being born without any coverage or with medical leave days that had stockpiled for years. I was fortunate in my over decade of a career to be able to not get severely sick and to plan appointments, procedures, and surgeries for myself and family during breaks. I attempted to save every possible day just in case something happened or I was fortunate enough to one day have a family.
Fast forward to today and the preparation I have been making for my upcoming maternity leave. I have been tracking my lesson plans and movement through the curriculum and standards by week for the past two school years. When I found out my husband and I were fortunate enough to be expecting, I started my lesson plans for leave in the first trimester. My maternity leave will come at the beginning of the year, not getting to start with my class is going to feel so odd for me. I have been working on my planning a little each week and by the second trimester I made sure I was creating the items needed for the first quarter. From gathering student first week gift items to trying to copy all of the activities, projects, and performance tasks. I have been collecting paper boxes to store the materials in files and there are several boxes already, with the task not yet finished. I have also ordered and gathered up the common materials needed or what some students may not be able to bring from the supply list so it is all in one place for my sub. So much had to be written to not only explain what is learned in the first quarter but also building community in the classroom, procedures, even Meet the Teacher and Curriculum Night. It is something any teacher who has gone on leave has done and those in other professional careers have similar plans they need to create.
What I keep thinking throughout this whole process is how would I be feeling if I hadn’t been able to save my days up for a decade? What if I was having a second child and then wouldn’t have days to go on FMLA and still receive a paycheck or the very least a portion of a check to go towards my health insurance? What if I didn’t have a partner to support me in this? What if… And then there are the considerations once I get back to work, like how this recent EdWeek article brought to life where educators are having to decide to take care of their own children or others: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/20/stop-breastfeeding-or-quit-teaching-the-terrible
We don’t have to require that educators are forced into making these choices. It is true that many companies do not have these benefits either and that is definitely a larger conversation for our society, however why in a female dominated profession, a profession that exists because of children, are we not more profamily? If I was to leave this career and return back to my corporate career or back to my education career at a large state institution these benefits would not only exist for women but for all parents. If education is focused on the family we need to make sure this focus extends to the families of those who work in education as well.
I share my story only because it is a tiny sampling of the much larger needs related to this issue. I could share many other colleagues and friends stories that aren’t as fortunate. Is this an advocacy area you support to retain our best educational professionals?