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At the end of the school year, my husband and I received the exciting news that we were expecting our first baby boy. Although I did experience many of the first trimester symptoms, I was off for two glorious months where I was able to get as much rest as I needed. When August was coming to a close, reality started to set in. The summer was over, and I would be back to teaching 100 students a day, planning lessons, marking assignments, going to meetings, running our school’s Grad Council, and completing what seemed like an endless to-do list. I soon learned that teaching while pregnant was far more challenging than expected. Below are some tips that helped me along the way!
Deciding when to share the news of your pregnancy with your boss, colleagues, and students is a deeply personal decision. Some people simply cannot keep their pregnancy a secret, while others feel much more comfortable keeping the news to themselves until they are out of risky territory.
Personally, I chose to tell my administrator as soon as I returned from summer vacation, so she would be aware of the reason I may be missing time for illness or appointments. I asked her to keep it to herself until I was ready to share it with the staff and students.
I told my colleagues and students I was pregnant at about 13 weeks (when my doctor told me the risk of miscarriage significantly decreases). Looking back now, I wish I had told my students in a more creative way (as a test question, bell-ringer riddle, etc.), but I was so excited that I basically just blurted it out! One unexpected benefit to sharing the news with students: they tended to be better behaved and were more helpful in the classroom.
Teachers are generally a selfless group of people. They go to work early, leave late, and spend their evenings marking or lesson planning. Teachers also selflessly devote their free time to extra-curricular activities and after-school supervision. They often do this without complaint because it is for the kids.
Pregnancy is one time when you need to slow down and put yourself and your baby first. When you are teaching while pregnant, you don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time. Here are a few ways you can work smart and keep your sanity:
You’ll need to start approaching your lesson plans in a way that doesn’t have you running around the classroom all day long. If you teach elementary, you might consider setting up center activities with one center being a teacher-led group at a desk where you can sit down. If you are a middle or high school teacher, you might consider organizing student-led lessons or discussions where you can sit back and listen for at least part of the class.
One of my favorite ways to get students talking and get me off my feet was to facilitate a silent discussion. With silent discussions, students circulate the room silently at their own pace and move to questions of their choice, responding to prompts and other students’ opinions in writing before sharing with the rest of the class. I talk about how to facilitate a silent discussion and provide a FREE download here. This method can be used to discuss questions related to a particular concept you are teaching, or you can also use it with general discussion questions. I love using this activity with the ethical dilemma prompts. These always elicit lots of discussions even from the least outgoing students.
Find ways to bring videos or clips into your classroom when you are teaching while pregnant. For most topics you are covering, you should be able to find a related video. One way that I did this was to start every Thursday with a video journal where students watched a thought-provoking clip from YouTube and wrote a journal entry for 15 minutes. This gave me a few minutes in between classes to rest my feet, and students were engaged by this modern writing prompt.
This one requires a bit of planning, but if you can find a few relevant guest speakers to come in to speak to your classes, especially near the end of your pregnancy, you will really thank yourself. Having a few days where you can relax and let someone else take the reins will give you a well-deserved break.
During the first trimester, you will most likely be exhausted when you get home. We all know that a teacher’s day doesn’t end when the final bell rings, so you need to start using class time to your advantage so you can put your feet up when you get home. Take the time when students are working to correct homework, input marks, or lesson plan. You don’t need to be constantly circulating. Instead, have students come to your desk!
When we think of a teacher, they are always standing in front of the room. You need to change that picture by sitting as much as possible when you are teaching. I felt odd sitting in my ‘teacher chair’ because I was so low, but I put a higher stool at the front of the class and this is where I spent the majority of my time instructing. It was a life-saver!
Emergency lesson plans is a requirement when you are teaching while pregnant. I would advise you to have ready-to-use plans for at least 5 days printed and put in folders on your desk. Pregnancy is unpredictable and you may need to miss time. I was out with back pain and having plans ready on my desk was invaluable! If you don’t have the time to make your own, try searching Teachers Pay Teachers, and you are sure to find emergency plans for any subject. Below are the resources I left on my desk (for middle and high English). The folder included lesson plans and all the resources the teacher would need to implement the lesson in all my classes.
Another one of my favorite lessons to leave for a substitute teacher is the Missing Teacher assignment. It can be used in any subject area and is a great assignment to leave if you are really in a pinch. The assignment is about your inexplicable absence and puts students in charge (by the principal) of investigating the reason you are not at school. Students will create a Missing Teacher poster and an investigative police case file that has them examine evidence and witness testimonies. I can guarantee that you will come back to school to an assignment that will definitely get you laughing!
Teachers get so busy they often forget to drink water during the day. Get in the habit of bringing a refillable bottle to class and keeping it with you at all times. One trick I used to remember to stay hydrated: Whenever a student asked to go get a drink (which was at least one student per class), that was my reminder to drink water, or if the bottle wasn’t full, I would ask them to fill it for me. You could also put a chart on your desk to write down how much water you drank per day as a reminder! I aimed to drink eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
Teachers are notorious for being cruel to their bladders. Add pregnancy in the mix where you need to go constantly (especially in your first and third trimesters), and you have a serious problem! Here are a couple of tips to make going to the bathroom a bit easier when teaching while pregnant:
Most women experience nausea in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. One way to stave off this symptom is to eat small snacks often. While I generally have a no-eating policy in my class, I tell them that pregnancy gives you a free pass. I would keep crackers, celery sticks, apples, or raisins in my desk drawer to snack on in class.
If you are a teacher, you know that you spend most of the day on your feet. When I first started back to work, I wore little heels as I always had. I ignorantly expected to wear these shoes until the end of my pregnancy. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the heels just were not going to cut it. I found cute flats for fall and flat boots for the winter that made life easier (my husband was also happy as he didn’t have to give as many foot massages).
We all know that lunch for a teacher is often not a restful hour. Teachers spend their lunches scarfing down their food, supervising students, giving extra help, photocopying, or planning. When you are teaching while pregnant, you have to make a conscious effort to rest during lunch and breaks or you will burn out by 24 weeks! Have extra help one day a week and stick to that day, try to switch supervision duty with someone in an area where you have the chance to sit, and allot at least half of your lunch for eating in a seated position (no walking down the halls with your sandwich!).
Although I know this can be a challenge for some, you should also try to limit the work you bring home. Teaching is exhausting when you are not pregnant, so throw in the first-trimester fatigue, and you will be napping on the couch at home much more than usual. Limit your work at home by only marking summative/final assessments (please don’t mark everything students complete) or doing weekly lesson plans, so you aren’t scrambling every night for a plan for the following day.
This is what I struggled with the most. Remember, you are pregnant. You are growing a tiny precious baby inside who needs you to think about yourself and him/her for 40 weeks. Every lesson doesn’t need to be spectacular, you don’t have to mark everything, you are not required to participate in any extra-curricular activities, and you shouldn’t be volunteering for any extra commitments. If you need to take a day off, take it off. Your students will be okay without you! If you have to go off on maternity leave early for whatever reason, your students will be taken care of.
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