In an earlier post, I compared “social media” constraints at the end of my teaching career with “social” (public drinking) constraints at its start.
In that post, I wondered if the anti-public drinking constraint was aimed particularly at women. …Would my cooperating teacher have given me the same admonition if I had been a male student teacher?
(Too bad I didn’t wonder that decades ago, when she first admonished me; I could have compared notes with the male student teacher across the hallway. …Too late now!)
In any case, there was one constraint when I got my first teaching job that definitely did apply only to female teachers.
As a non-tenured teacher, I was required to resign no later than my fourth month of pregnancy. (Tenured teachers got to stay two more months, unless their side profile suggested otherwise.)
(Fortunately, two years later, a couple of teachers won a lawsuit, compelling the state to drop its must-leave requirements at any month of pregnancy, regardless of tenure status.)
These last few years that I have been back in education, I have seen many women work to within days of delivery. I applaud their stamina. Teaching elementary students requires a great deal of physical, as well as emotional and intellectual, strength—as does pregnant motherhood, particularly in the last trimester.
While I applaud them, do I envy them? …Honestly, while I was saddened being forced to leave when I did, remembering how tired I was, how scared I was when a student almost knocked me backwards down a flight of steps, and when I close my eyes and still see the cars ahead and around me skidding out of control on an icy major highway, I am happy that I was given the opportunity to be “safe” at home for the bulk of my pregnancy.
If I have one regret for today’s teachers, it is that the young teachers I talk with today can’t afford to stay home earlier in their pregnancy, even if they want to.
Oh, and personally, when I think back to my having to leave my first teaching job, all these many years later, I still feel the pain of how I was informed to absent myself.
A middle school teacher, I was on my assigned duty in a ninth grade study hall. The principal walked in (without knocking), heading directly to the desk where I was sitting.
No niceties; straight to the chase.
“I understand you are three months’ pregnant.” (I had told his female vice principal—any wonder?)
“You cannot stay past fourth months. February 20th will be your last day. That’s when the winter recess begins.”
And with that, he turned and left, leaving a mortified me behind.
Not even a perfunctory “Congratulations” had he offered, and worse yet–it didn’t seem to me that he had exactly whispered.
The study hall was (amazingly) quiet. I was sure the students had heard every word. Not exactly the way I imagined breaking the news to my students.
Adding insult to injury, when I met my replacement, she confided that when she applied and accepted to be my mid-year leave replacement, we had more in common than being social studies teachers, schooled in the same university. We both were, for the first time, “equally” pregnant.
Difference was that the principal didn’t know about her situation, and, sadly, the doctors expected that her child would be miscarried.
When she told me she was counting on that happening, I could hardly believe my ears, and fortunately for her employment plans, she miscarried the week-end before she walked into the classroom as my replacement.
In retrospect, I realize I should not have judged her—no matter how ironic that she hid her pregnancy, counting on not being pregnant in time to replace someone who had to leave for being the same number of months pregnant.
In retrospect, I realize that it likely was healthy for her to keep herself busy, planning for a new job, as a way of coping with the impending loss of her son. I can say that now because when a close relative faced the same specter, I witnessed firsthand the excruciating pain of knowing you are carrying a child who is dying, a child who cannot be helped by even the most skilled surgeon.
There is something else that has pained me all these years, something that as I have just begun to write this post, for the first time all these years later, I see in a different light.
All these years I thought my replacement was unnecessarily mean and callous for extending my former students’ invitation to me and my baby to attend their end-of-the-year class parties, only to call me back a few days later, discouraging me from coming, citing what I later learned was a fictitious virus outbreak, still giving students the impression I was coming, knowing I wasn’t, until midway in the party when concerned students asked where I was that she admitted I wasn’t coming, giving the impression I didn’t care about them any longer.
And all these years I thought to myself, Why did she do that to me? Keep me from being with the students who wanted to see me? Having them think I was indifferent toward them? Ostensibly, the school year was over. I wasn’t coming back to replace her. I was no threat to her over the affection or loyalty of those students.
Now, as I write this, I’m putting the two pieces together. Maybe it wasn’t me she purposely kept from attending the party. No. Maybe it was the baby she couldn’t bear to see. A baby that would have been about the same age as her son, a son she carried without hope of ever bringing to school—as visitor or student.
Maybe I should have sensed that. Maybe I am just as guilty for not going without my baby.
Life is complex, isn’t it? And retirement, I’m learning, is a quiet time, a Graced time, when the Lord allows us to see things we hadn’t seen before, as we quiet down in reflection.
I never saw or heard of that teacher-replacement again. I hope she and her husband had many healthy children.
And all those wonderful children who invited me back into their lives for their end-of-year parties would be fifty-nine years old now. I hope they have been blessed with many loving children and grandchildren, even if my mind’s eye keeps them forever being fourteen.
Were there any pregnancy-related employment constraints in your work history?