Teachers readjust to classroom after return from parental leave

Ann Vettikkal | Staff Writer

While Chemistry teacher Sheila Nimer cherished her time off with her newborn son, it was difficult for her to leave her students in the middle of the school year.

For teachers who double as parents at Mason High School, it’s what to expect after expecting that proves the real trials, tribulations, and ultimate rewards of having a baby. 

Kristin Stoll, who teaches Honors English II, came back to school at the start of November after having her child in June. The typical duration of maternity leave is six to eight weeks, but Stoll took extra time to raise her daughter.

“It’s tiring, but also incredibly worth it,” Stoll said. “It’s super fun because you get to be a little kid yourself. I took additional time to be with her. If I wouldn’t have done that, I would have come back at the beginning of the school year. Some advice that I have received from other teachers was that the best time was the time they took off with their child — you can’t get that back.”

This extra time meant that Stoll was able to properly enjoy those irreplaceable moments with her daughter. But it also meant that she didn’t come back to school until a few months after the start of school. Stoll said this shift was tricky but necessary — it gave her the balance of being a caretaker and interacting with coworkers and students. 

“It’s challenging, but in a good way,” Stoll said. “When you’re at home with your baby all day, you obviously enjoy being with your child. But when you came to school, you get to interact with other adults and be around other people who are academically minded.”

In terms of her students, Stoll said the key to the transition was about how she presented herself and her confidence in what she was teaching. She loved her job and missed her students, which meant she didn’t have to force a particular dynamic with her class. 

“I miss the beginning of the school year because I love that time of the year,” Stoll said. “I feel like there could be [a disconnect with students] but I try not to emphasize that. I think as a teacher, if you feel comfortable with what you’re teaching then you automatically feel more comfortable with your students.”

Chemistry teacher Sheila Nimer, on the other hand, had to deal with leaving toward the end of the year, after she had already formed a connection with her students. This happened twice, once with her son in 2017, and then again with her daughter last school year. 

“It was tough because all of your students turn into your kids and you care about them,” Nimer said. “At that point, you have such a strong relationship with all of your students. It’s really hard to just walk away.”   

Even though Nimer had the entire summer off for both kids, finding the balance between work and home life was not easy. Her love for both meant that she had to figure out a happy medium between the two spheres of her life.

“It’s still hard,” Nimer said. “I feel like many parents will relate where your kids here are super important and your kids at home are super important. And sometimes you feel like you might be letting one of them down.”

For English I teacher Tim Navaro, his experience as a father created a whole different set of circumstances. He was given 10 days for paternity leave, and he took five days off, using the other five as “flexibility days,” which let him help his wife later on. It also helped keep the flow of his class going after his daughter was born on September 20. 

“It’s hard to make lesson plans while you’re away, trying to keep the curriculum moving forward at the pace you’re supposed to,” Navaro said. “I would have loved to have been there kept them moving with my instruction, but I don’t feel like I missed too much. It did slow down. It was kind of hard to get [my students] back up to speed, but it wasn’t terrible.”

Nimer had to deal with finding a long-term substitute since she was gone for months, rather than days. It was more than just giving a substitute directions, especially since they become an extension of the classroom after teaching for so many weeks. 

“I was very involved in the hiring process for both long-term subs,” Nimer said. “So I felt like I got a say in who was going to fill my shoes when I was gone. It was [about] finding the right person. They don’t have free rein to teach what they want — there’s a calendar I expect you to follow. Your coworkers are the unsung heroes when you’re out on leave and when it comes to having a successful long-term sub.”

Navaro noted key differences between his role as a father and that of the mother, starting with the lack of a long-term sub, which would have been superfluous for his five days of absence. He also said he believed his role as a father did not measure up with the effort and energy required by his wife. 

“ [Fathers] play a role to an extent, but not that much,” Navaro said. “For me, it’s like a supporting role. I have two other younger kids, so for me, my job was really to come home and give my wife a break. The mom needs time. But every family has a different dynamic.”

According to Navaro, the time he was given off to spend with his daughter went by far too quickly. However, he said he understood why he received so much less time off than his female co-workers.

  “I think that women need much more than men,” Navaro said. “I’m all for women getting more time [off work]. Dads…just have to deal with it.”

Regardless of the amount of time they had initially, all three teachers shared the value of placing importance on taking the time to focus on their newborn. For Stoll, those moments with her daughter were priceless — and fleeting. 

“I really do think that it’s important to put the needs of your child first for a time period,” Stoll said. “As a teacher, you don’t often get that time during the school year to spend with your child. It may not seem like it’s convenient, but the time is worthwhile to be spent with them. I don’t regret spending that time away just because I’ll look back on that and remember how awesome it was to see her when she was so little.”

Photo contributed by Sheila Nimer.