Starting the Year AFTER Your Students Do

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The first day of school is a tough one for a teacher. It is an incredibly long and exhausting day that you build up to all summer. However, I have to tell you from personal experience that what is even harder is when you AREN'T there the first day and your students start the school year without you. This situation can happen for a number of reasons, both good and bad. Maybe a teacher has had a baby and is on maternity leave...yay!! However, maybe a teacher is facing a personal health crisis or dealing with a family emergency...tough! This happened to me 5 years ago when I had to have emergency surgery the week before school started (would a teacher have surgery the week before school started if it wasn't an emergency?!!!) and it is about to happen to a dear friend of mine this year, who also has to have a major surgery. She and I have spent time talking about what she should do and how to handle the situation. I got to thinking about how many teachers have to deal with this issue.

Whether you are not starting the school year because of an exciting addition to your family or because of a difficult situation that has arrived at your door, it is not an easy task of figuring out how to have your students start the year without you. So I have come up with a few tips (outside of the obvious get a good sub, inform your administration, & fill out the proper paperwork) that I have been sharing with my friend about what I learned from my situation and I thought that other teachers could benefit from them as well.

1. Realize first and foremost that this year is NOT going to look like every other year and that is OK!

2. No matter how great your substitute is (and I so encourage you to get the best sub that you possibly can...hopefully a retired or former teacher), they are not YOU and things will NOT go the way that you planned for them to go. This doesn't mean that everything is going to be chaos but your substitute will not do everything exactly how you would, which will mean that some things will be difficult when you come back. Reread #1 and keep that as your motto!

3. Be sure you come back READY to handle your class. I actually came back before I should have and I suffered for it. I not only dealt with a lot of physical pain for longer than I should have but I also felt so bad that I wasn't on top of my game when it came to organization, classroom management, and consistency. It is hard to be on top of your game after major surgery and I should have headed the warnings of my doctor, family, friends, etc. and stayed home longer but as the teacher mantra always goes, "but my students need me!!" Yes, they do need you but they need you well first. You can't take care of a classroom if you can't take care of yourself.

Additionally, I have heard that it is best if new moms take their children to daycare for a week prior to starting back at work so they have time to deal with all the emotions that come with this as well as time to get physically ready by getting their home under control, resting, and working on any preliminary schoolwork they need to start the next week. I have not personally dealt with this but I know that having seen friends start back to work after maternity leave, they usually have a tough time leaving their new baby and it seems to help if they have done some of this a week or so before returning to work.

4. Remind yourself that you are NOT irreplaceable at work or at home. We all like to think that only we can do certain things but that is not true. Let co-workers, family, & friends help you. If your co-worker is willing to share curriculum with you, use it. Maybe you don't normally like how this teacher does things but as long as the students are getting the material and understanding it, does it really matter if they learn their vocabulary through a crossword puzzle she made rather than a game you made? No, it doesn't and that crossword will save you time. Make sure that you let your loved ones help you at home too. Yes, your husband may make Hamburger Helper three nights a week for the kids because that is all he can cook but that is okay. Everyone is fed and you didn't have to cook it. It won't hurt for a few weeks while you get back on your feet. Don't make yourself crazy trying to be everything for everyone.

5. However, don't overuse your helpers. People will get tired of helping you for extended periods of time. I saw that after a few weeks of people helping, they got a little "too busy" to help. I understand. I have been there myself. We all have our own hectic lives to deal with and it is really hard to help someone out for an extended period of time. For this reason, try to prep things ahead of time. For instance like in my friend's case, she knows when her surgery is and she can prepare food in the freezer for her family and classroom resources for her students prior to the start of the year. This will make it much easier on her husband and her co-workers that are trying to help her. The same is true for a maternity leave. In addition to prepping that baby's room, try to prep some meals for the freezer and schoolwork for the substitute since you really don't want to have to do all of that when you would rather be spending time with your precious little one.

6. Have a teacher friend take VERY detailed notes or even record the In-Service/Beginning of School Year Meetings. I know what you were thinking, you thought the one perk of not being there at the start of school was that you would miss those meetings. Well, yes you will and because of that people will forget to tell you the changes that were made when you get back. You won't realize it until one day maybe weeks or months after your return and there is a major change that EVERYONE knew about except for you. They all will look at you like you are crazy for not knowing about the change until then everyone remembers that you weren't there for the start of school meetings.

7. Enlist a trusted colleague with all the curriculum and logistic materials that you leave for the substitute. Preferably this person should be someone that teaches the same course you do or is at least in your department. This is going to be the contact person that you refer your substitute to if they have questions about curriculum or logistics. The reason this is important is because your substitute WILL have questions (no matter how awesome they are!) and you don't want to be recovering from surgery or tending to a crying baby while constantly getting stressful phone calls and text messages from your substitute. It is a lot easier if the substitute knows that Mrs. Jones down the hall can help her instead of bothering you all the time.

8. Find something FUN to do on the official first day of school. No matter how happy you are to be home with that new baby or how grateful you are for time to recover from surgery/illness, you are going to feel a bit weird on the first day of school. I remember feeling very depressed on that first day while everyone was meeting their classes and I was seeing all those photos of first day pictures on social media. Even if you are recovering from illness/surgery, find something enjoyable to do that day, even if it is just to watch a new movie while resting in the recliner.

9. Show Gratitude! Be incredibly grateful to all those that helped you during this time. I know that in this day & age, thank you notes don't seem to be popular but I highly recommend that you thank everyone that helps you during this process. I would keep a running list of everyone and what they did to help you. If you don't do anything but write a sweet note and put a candy bar with it, you will be amazed at how much people really do appreciate you recognizing their help.

And be sure to show appreciation to your family! We often forget to thank our parents, siblings, and spouses, yet they are the ones there for us the most. Find a thoughtful way to let them all know how much you appreciate their support, love, and generosity during your time of need. It could be as simple as cooking a nice meal and inviting everyone over but just make sure that you let them know that their help was NOT overlooked.

Awesome resources that I HIGHLY recommend

1. Teachers Pay Teachers - I didn't know about this site until well after my surgery but it is truly a lifesaver for finding quality assignments, assessments, and other teacher resources. If you need it, you can find it on TpT. If it isn't on there, you can even ask a seller if they will create it for you! Being a seller myself, I have lots of TpT friends and I buy from TpT regularly so if this is ever something that you want to do and you don't know where to start, let me know and I will happily send you in the direction of some of my favorite sellers in whatever secondary area you are looking. There are a lot of FREE materials on TpT; however, many are paid products. BUT, what is $3.00 for something that will save you 2 hours in time?! It is well worth it if you ask me!

2. Take Them a Meal - This is a great website if you are needing meals provided to your family. You can set it up for how many times a week, provide diet/nutritional information needed, have contact information including the time you would like it brought, etc. I am planning on setting up one for my friend and I highly recommend using something like this since it is so much easier than emailing, texting, etc. If sent the link, people can just sign up on their own and even tell you what they are bringing. You can also share this on social media, which makes it even easier for everyone!

3. Walmart Grocery - In some areas you can select & purchase all your groceries online and select a pick-up time. You can then just arrive at the store and they will load them into your car. This would be excellent for new moms!

4. Shipt Grocery Delivery - You can get your groceries delivered to your home! This is super easy and so convenient. Right now they are even offering a 2 weeks Free and $15 off your first order!

Any other ideas that I missed? I would love to hear your thoughts! What have you done?

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