By Morghan Brandon
I am sitting in my empty classroom scarfing down a turkey sandwich and calling the Board of Education before my students come roaring in from lunch. “Human resources, please,” I tell the very pleasant receptionist. The voice that greets me from HR is much colder and disconnected. We engage in a five-minute back-and-forth about my maternity leave coming this January.
“Let me get this straight,” I scoff in disbelief, “I only have 34 sick hours and once that is gone, I won’t be paid?”
“That is correct,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone.
“And on top of not being paid, I am supposed to pay you all for my benefits?” The bell rings, my kids rush in, and my mouth is still hanging wide open.
I’m having a baby, I’m a teacher and, like most American teachers, I am not receiving pay while I am out on maternity leave. The teacher workforce is female dominated, yet in a profession that is majority female, why are we denied our right to motherhood on our terms?
According to a 2016 poll done by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 77 percent of the 3.8 million teachers in the US are female. Three years later, not only has the number of teachers in the US increased, so has the percentage of women in the profession. In one of our country’s very few women-dominated workforces, we are still being crushed by a glass-ceiling policy.
So how far have we really come?
One of the main issues with the American Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is leaving it up to local-level decisions. As per a 1993 bill signed by the Clinton administration, under federal law, there is no requirement for maternity leave – only 12 weeks of job protection. Until we are unified by a cohesive mandatory maternity leave for teachers, we will continue to see low retention in our profession.
In a time that I felt completely hopeless about this issue in my own school county, I began to research other school districts and how teacher unions are fighting to change these regressive policies. I found a school district in California that has negotiated to offer six weeks of paid leave with the purpose of improving teacher retention and employment as the country faces a shortage of teachers and in an increase in student numbers.
As a nation we must put a higher value on our education system, especially on those that are responsible for the success or failure of it.
“I felt so unappreciated when I had my son,” one of my coworkers vented as we discussed my pregnancy and what would happen while I was out. “I was so sick during my pregnancy that I used all of my hours before I even went out on leave. By the time I had my daughter, I had no time accrued.”
My coworker was still experiencing complications and her daughter was only three weeks old when she was forced to return to work. She had no money to cover the steep medical bills she had accrued and had to leave her daughter in someone else’s care.
There are hundreds and thousands of women being subjected to the same difficult decision as my coworker and yet no one should have to choose between caring for their newborn and providing for their family. More teachers and teachers unions around the country have to stand up and say enough is enough.
Teaching is one of the most under-appreciated professions and yet we are a strong predominantly female force that is moulding, cultivating and preparing the future generations of the world to be productive, educated and responsible citizens.
Now is the time to take a massive leap forward with a federal law that will standardise teachers rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of motherhood.