For teachers and students all over the state, summer is over. Ruth Wilson returned to the classroom this week in Jackson County. She will be teaching tenth grade students this school year. She will also be starting the year for the first time as a new mom.
"I missed ten school days and that’s all that I’ll be out,” explained Wilson, who missed those days at the end of last school year when her daughter Collins was born.
Wilson said she and her husband planned carefully to have a child at the end of the school year. The decision was a financial, a career-focused and a family-oriented one.
“Six weeks is a long time to be away from your students and I just couldn’t do it and not only that, six weeks isn’t enough time to be at home with your newborn,” Wilson reasoned.
She stayed home with Collins for 12 weeks, which is twice as long as standard maternity leave. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, mothers can take only six weeks off with a new baby and, in order to use it, an employee must first use up all his or her vacation and sick leave.
“And my husband’s a farmer and so it’s not like he can tell the cows, ‘Hey, I’ll be back tomorrow. I have a sick child,’” Wilson said. “He has to go to work.”
Friend, teacher and fellow first-time mom Leah Jones said “scheduling” a baby for the summer is a common practice for educators.
“We had three teachers pregnant at our school this year,” said Jones. “It’s definitely not a new idea.”
Jones explained that many teachers aim for April, May or June due dates so that they can have more time at home with their new babies and can avoid missing important academic events.
“Generally, it’s rare that you would see a teacher have a baby in February because it’s right before high stakes testing,” Jones noted. “You just try to be considerate of your job and your students and what you’re responsible for as well as being considerate of your family.”
Gwinnett County teacher Stefani Wood has two children. She said she had not heard of other teachers planning for summer babies, but thought the idea made the most sense for her and her family.
“Just being a teacher and having the summers off, it just seemed natural,” Wood recalled.
Wood said her students were a big factor in the decision because she teaches children with autism, who can need more routine and structure than others.
“Mine really was first just being out of the classroom,” she explained. “I didn’t want to miss that time.”
Wood’s first son, Declan, was born on the first day of school four years ago, which she said was difficult because she missed the next six weeks of school. Wood planned her second, one-year-old Mead, for June.
“If I have another one, yes it would definitely be in the summer. For sure, we’d try to plan it that way again. I think I’ve got it down to a science now, so we’ll see,” laughed Wood.
While these teachers maintain summer births are a common trick of the trade for teachers, there is no conclusive data on how many plan their families around the school calendar. The Georgia Department of Education does not track when or if teachers take maternity leave. The practice does help the state and systems like Jackson County maintain their education budgets because substitute teachers cost about $160 per day.
“I couldn’t imagine leaving my classroom to someone else,” said Wilson.