For the last seven years, my classroom and my students have been my babies, and in many ways, they always will be my first babies. However, as of February 11, 2019, I have my first real baby. While I am so grateful to have 12 weeks off to be with my little man, it is hard to be away from my first babies.
Throughout my pregnancy, I took every class the hospital offered to best prepare myself for the birth of my first child. There was one class I did not take, though, which was sibling preparation, since my son has no siblings to prepare for his arrival. That being said, I needed to prepare my first babies, my second graders, for my long absence and for my real baby. Here are the four steps I recommend preparing your students for your baby.
Step One: Tell Your Students About Your Baby
I was 14 weeks pregnant when the school year began, and I did not want to tell my students about my baby right away. I needed to develop bonds with my students since I am basically a stranger to them at the beginning of the year before I told them about my baby. I waited several weeks before I told them about my baby, and after talking to colleagues and searching for ideas on Pinterest, decided to make it an exciting reveal.
I always try to tie something new and exciting into a behavior reward, so with that focus in mind, I began to plan my reveal. I am not big on giving treats, or going all out with decorations – mostly because I never seem to have the time to get surprises like that together. I opted to go with something simple and came up with a mystery message. Every time my students completed some desirable behavior such as following directions quickly, lining up quietly, working with partners nicely, etc. they earned a point. Once they earned five points, they could guess a letter for the mystery message. Think of this as similar to Hangman, but they were not penalized for guessing incorrect letters. I figured that this would go on all day before they even had a clue what the mystery message was, and I could not wait to get started.
Well, by 9:00 in the morning my students knew what the message was. It was not spelled out, but among the first letters my class guessed were B and Y. They did not know the message for sure, but they definitely suspected that it was “Ms. Corrigan is having a baby!”
By the end of the day, we ran out of time and did not complete the message so I asked “Does anyone think they know what the message says?” and was met with my entire class screaming “Ms. Corrigan is having a baby!”
Step Two A: Get Your Classroom Prepared and Ready for a Sub
I do not use a lot of worksheets with my students for various reasons, and often do more discussion based or journal based activities, so this step was difficult for me. I put together some skill packets for each week my sub could use and wrote out procedures for the journal activities I frequently use for teaching reading, writing, and math. As a second grade teacher, we teach a lot about holidays and other monthly themes, so I prepared master copies of resources like that for each month. I hope that the things I left for my sub will be helpful, and would love to hear any other ideas or suggestions you have for preparing your classroom for a long-term sub!
Step Two B: Write Down the Funny Things Your Students Say to You Throughout Your Pregnancy
Oh, the things the littles say. Some students are extremely perceptive and guessed I was pregnant well before I told them, and two stories stick out in particular here. One of my students last year, at some point during the first week of school, told her teacher she knew I was pregnant because I kept touching my belly. I think she saw me maybe two times for less than 2 minutes each time, so I am really not sure how she knew. One of my current students asked me if I had a son as we were leaving one day. I told her I did not, and she patted my belly and said, “Are you going to have one?” and walked away. Little did she know at the time, but she was right!
I was not showing when I told my students about my baby and was able to hide the bump for several weeks after. I knew that I could not hide it anymore when one of my students said, “Ms. Corrigan, I can tell there’s a baby in there because your belly is getting bigger!” At that point, every week that followed my students would tell me that my baby is getting so big at least once a day. They would also touch and rub my belly and talk to my baby every chance they got.
Step Three: Tell Your Students When You Will Leave and When You Will Return
This was the hardest part. I knew my last day would be February 1st, and knew that I had to tell my students about this change early to emotionally prepare them for my absence. I put the news in my classroom newsletter, and on every other notice, I sent home to parents in January. I reminded my students every Monday that the last time they would see me for a while would be February 1st, and then again every day the last week I had with them.
My students knew that I would be home with my baby for a while, but had no idea that I would be gone for 12 weeks, which to a second grader sounds like the rest of their life. They were very sad, but the blow was softened a bit when they got to meet the substitute teacher ahead of time. I tried to focus on the fact that I will be returning, that they are not being abandoned, the substitute teacher is so excited to be there with them, and will see me again before they know it.
Step Four: Leave Your Classroom and Enjoy Time With Your New Baby
I hung out in my classroom long after the bell rang, tidying up and making sure everything was as ready as could be for the substitute teacher. I took a moment of silence to reflect on the good times that happened this year and wished the best for the substitute teacher and my students in my absence. I know that my students were prepared for my absence as best as could be and that the substitute teacher has plenty of resources to use with my students while I am gone.
What suggestions do you have for preparing your students for your baby? I would love to hear your ideas!