Maternity leave prompts concerns over student learning


When teachers go on maternity leave, many challenges arise in the learning environment for teachers and students.

Maternity leave is a period of time when a mother takes a break from work after welcoming a baby. Teachers at SCHS have experienced leaving their classrooms and students behind in order to take care of themselves and their child.

English teacher and yearbook advisor Hannah Blue went on maternity leave during the 2021-2022 school year and will take leave again later in 2023. Reflecting on her first maternity leave, Blue struggled with more than what she bargained for.

“It was so difficult, mainly because while I trusted my coworkers, they’re not the ones in here delivering the lessons, and so I think there was probably some miscommunications between the teachers I work with, my long-term sub and the students,” Blue said.

When teachers are out of the classroom, substitute teachers take over. For situations like maternity leave, long-term substitutes are common. Junior Danielle Grattidge thought it was complicated to learn the material that was intended to be taught by a teacher.

“Normally, substitutes are only there for a day or so and it’s independent work, but you can’t do independent work for a whole semester,” Grattidge said. “It was difficult to grasp the concepts that we were supposed to be seeing for the first time.”

Similarly, junior Rushil Ramkrishnan agrees that it was a difficult adjustment to the classroom environment by not being able to form proper relationships with the main educator. 

“We never got to establish a year-long solidified connection with the teacher, and we had to switch classroom management styles with the varying subs,” Ramkrishnan said.

Grattidge wished the substitute teachers were more supportive and knowledgeable.   

“I think it would have been better if they had substitutes who were more understanding of the concepts that needed to be taught in the class,” Grattidge said.

Maternity leave can be a complicated time for teachers no matter the work environment. Spanish teacher Amanda Vrabel had her first maternity leave during virtual learning in 2021. She managed to find substitute teachers who spoke Spanish, but there were issues with technology.

“I might be able to find somebody who knows Spanish, but to be able to navigate to the meetings in all the online stuff was maybe too much for somebody,” Vrabel said.

Taking leave during distance learning was not the only challenge for Vrabel. When she returned, Vrabel experienced difficulties breastfeeding her baby. Though SCHS does have a room for teachers who need to breastfeed, the amount of time it takes to produce milk disrupts student learning and lesson planning time.

“The thing that was hard was we had to find somebody to come cover our classes so we can go do that (breastfeed),” Vrabel said. “I felt like it was me having to ask somebody for a favor even though they were going to get compensated.”

Blue believes having support during maternity benefits the mother’s well-being. She expressed gratitude for her colleagues and loved ones who supported her throughout the process.

“I was very supported by my coworkers who are also friends, and that was something that had been built prior to me being on maternity leave. If I did not have those people, I don’t know what would’ve happened,” Blue said. “If you rewound my life three years prior, before those relationships had formed, I don’t know what would have happened with my students.”

Ramkrishnan was relieved when Blue returned from maternity leave. He believes that when she came back, the class’s morale and productivity increased.

“After she returned, we had a lot more discussions and in-class work as we could make time for educated discussions,” Ramkrishnan said.

When Vrabel was on maternity leave, her baby was on the forefront of her mind and other concerns were secondary.

“During the day, you’re completely so immersed in all the stress of taking care of a newborn baby that you don’t even have time to think or worry about school to be completely honest,” Vrabel said. “It’s something that’s so all-consuming.”

Blue expressed that while there are numerous difficulties, the hardest challenge for educators on leave would have to be missing their students and the classroom environment. The guilt many teachers experience from being outside of the classroom and unable to help takes a toll on both the teachers and students.

“At the end of the day, these are still my students, and I still take the ownership for those students. I want to make sure every student leaves that school year feeling they got the education they deserve,” Blue said. “Education doesn’t pause.”