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The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) allows up to twelve weeks of paid or unpaid leave under the Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for both mothers and fathers, without pay. The Department of Education is required to hold the employee’s job for the entire leave, albeit the FMLA fine print states that, “parents may not use sick leave to be absent from work to bond with or care for a healthy child.” In addition, teachers may take a paid leave of absence using their sick days, or an unpaid one if no sick days are saved up. Many teachers with newborn babies feel that these days are not enough and ideally, more than 12 weeks are necessary in order to ensure postpartum health and to establish a new routine.
For both new parents and those who are expecting a second or third time, the obstacles that come with being a parent and a teacher can be a burden on top of normal parental responsibilities.
Science teacher Shi Bing Shen, who has three children, outlined her plan of action and how it worked under the UFT guidelines. She stated, “I took off 12 weeks for my first child and 6 for the second one. As a public school teacher and a member of UFT, we are allowed  weeks of unpaid leave if it was a natural birth. You will have to apply for [coverage] if you need additional time.” Sometimes these applications consist of medical forms and contracts and can be long and time consuming. She continued, “It was hard coming back to work since I breastfed my child. Working and being a new mother don’t always work well.”
Ms. Shen stressed the importance of having the support of her family in order to successfully balance her duties as a wife, mother and educator. She said, “I was lucky enough to have family help in the beginning which made things a bit easier for me.”
English teacher Katherine Yan is expecting her baby this year. She agreed with Ms. Shen and commented, “My husband and I are very fortunate that we have supportive parents who are willing to babysit and assist in any way they can.”
Despite the offered help from her family, Ms. Yan still found it difficult to work throughout the school year whilst pregnant. She explained, “I have to use my time efficiently and get as much done when I’m in school so that I take less work home with me.”
At home, these mothers need to give their full attention to their child. Thus, papers and tests that need to be graded are pushed further back in their schedules. Ms. Shen said, “I usually get to work on my school stuff when my kids go to bed.”
Math teacher Sarah Liu, who has a two year old daughter, faces the challenge of working with a small child. In order to get work done, Ms. Liu explained that she has to evade her daughter’s sight. She said, “I have to hide from her… I either stay at school late or go to my sister’s house and grade papers.”
The responsibilities of parenthood do not end after the 12 week paid leave. After, teachers must make further sacrifices in order to manage both their professional and family lives.
English teacher Jessica Stillman and her spouse are both teachers. As teachers, she explained that they both “seem to have events going on at the same time so we have to manage who gets to go to certain things.”
Ms. Shen concurred and explained that she missed out on many of her children’s school trips and activities. Despite conflicting schedules, she affirmed “for big events such as graduation, I will make sure [that] I am there for my children,
For Math teacher Timothy Connor who has two young children, scheduling is not a problem. “I wouldn’t say my job has any more [scheduling conflicts] than if I worked in the corporate world.”
On the contrary, Ms. Yan admitted, “I worry that I will struggle balancing work with family. Soon there will be a little guy depending on me, and I want to be an involved mother, but I do not want to compromise my professional life.”
Ms. Stillman jocosely added, “There are really too many fears to list…I would end up taking up all 24 pages of The Classic!”