Advice for managing maternity leave from teaching

Michaela Gansen Sandness said: Nov 11, 2015
Michaela Gansen Sandness
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Minneapolis, MN
1 posts

I’m a Suzuki violin and viola teacher in Minnesota. I teach independently and I’m just about to have my first baby in January. I’m planning on taking a 6 week maternity leave after the baby is born. I don’t have the option of having another teacher sub for me while I take my leave. Some of my parents have approached me with concerns about the length of my maternity leave. I’m wondering how other teachers (especially those who are self employed like I am) have dealt with this issue.

I’m trying to think of ways I can offer extra events during my maternity leave to support my students, give my students opportunities to get questions answered and keep them motivated to practice. Ideas I’ve thought of: invite a colleague to teach a master class or group class, do a 100 day practice challenge, and Skype or FaceTime interviews with me. Does anyone have any additional ideas?

Gloria said: Nov 11, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
72 posts

Hello Michaela. Congratulations on your first child!
As much as I understand your studio parents thinking of their children’s progress, while you take time to bond with your first born, I am also appalled that they ask you about the long maternity leave…
Those first days, weeks, months are so important for you to have together, in peace, as much as possible.
It will be interesting to see what other teachers have done in your case, but I would like to encourage you not to give in too much. Maybe you can have a longer maternity leave after the first 6 weeks with lessons more spread out, with nursing included depending on how you organize it.
I would say, make it work for you. You are going to have many, many, years of teaching, but your child is going to need you completely only for a relatively short time. I don’t know what you financial situation is, but maybe if you end up with a couple fewer students it might not be so bad.
I am not sure this is what you wanted to hear, it is one of many possible perspectives. In any case, best of luck!.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter said: Nov 11, 2015
Holly Blackwelder CarpenterInstitute Director
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
College Place, WA
87 posts

Congratulations!

Having done this twice I do have some ideas for you. I think it is reasonable for parents to ask the the plan for maternity so they can plan their lives, but how long you take, is strictly up to you and should be announced confidently and with no apologies.

If your 6 week maternity doesn’t work for someone, and they move on, so be it, I have twice now built a studio based on my terms as a professional and found that I am much happier when I do not have families who are “lesson counting” and complaining about vacation, maternity or monetary issues. Be confident, charge what you are worth based on your education and experience and don’t apologize for taking your paid vacations—everyone else gets those, so should self-employed people.

Here is what I did:
Child #1, I took 6 weeks maternity leave:
1) I contacted 2 colleagues (one recently moved to the area so her studio wasn’t full, the other had taken a hit with the economy and wasn’t full). I had one come teach in my studio (which was a separate, stand alone building). Laura came on Monday and Tuesday to my studio and Jen took my Wednesday and Thursday students at her studio which was nearby. Students paid them directly and kept the same schedule as with me. Bonus money for Jen & Laura, the students had a different voice to listen to, which is always good, and I was able to get peer feedback on my students. Everyone was happy, but glad when we resumed normal lessons—nice to know I was missed!

Child #2, I also took 6 weeks, my colleagues were full, so we had every other week, the students kept the same schedule
1) Week 2 of leave—Hadley took her Spring Break, when she normally didn’t teach, and taught all my students (spring break in Seattle is all over the place, spanning 4 or 5 weeks, so we teachers just picked one, she picked that year based on my maternity leave)
2) Week 4 of leave—Lucy re-arranged her students and took mine, at my studio
3) Week 6—a recent violin major graduate taught my students, again at my studio.

Same advantages for all concerned. 6 weeks is a long time to go without instruction, but you shouldn’t interrupt your maternity leave. See if a colleague wants a bonus and doesn’t teach a particular day or is willing to teach on a Saturday or Sunday. Plan it all in advance, give everyone the appropriate phone numbers and let them figure it out.

Even if it is just one “workshop” on Week 4 by a colleague, that gives them a chance to check in and not internalize errors as they could over 6 weeks. Of course, you have to have a good working relationship with your colleagues—I chose friends and teachers I respected and admired, 1 who is much more experienced of a teacher then I, but I knew there would be no question of “poaching” students. All my students enjoyed very much their lessons, but they were also glad to come back “home” to me and to resume our routine.

Now, teaching with a child, is a whole other topic, and I”m sure when you get there, you can get some great feedback from this forum on that topic too!

Best of luck, make it work for you and stick to what works for your family. Plan in advance and then relax and turn off your phone when the little one arrives!
Holly

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter
Director, Japan Seattle Suzuki Institute
SAA Board of Directors

Danielle said: Nov 12, 2015
Danielle Dotson
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Violin
Cheverly, MD
10 posts

For my 3rd child I took 3 weeks off completely, then I did a half-schedule. I was typically teaching from 1pm until 7pm, so I split it and did one week of all the 1-4 lessons, and then the next week I did all the 4-7 lessons. I took the baby with me, and did this for 4 weeks or so.
I warned students in advance that the baby might scream and they were welcome to just cancel lessons until afterwards, but everyone wanted to come.
I took a swing, playmat, all the stuff, and all the parents were very supportive. They wanted to hold the baby. The baby slept, sat in the swing, was held, nursed, had a bottle, whatever he needed. The students played all their lullaby-type pieces as beautifully as they could, and when the baby started to respond to the faster pieces, they loved to see if they could make him smile or wave his hands around.
This wouldn’t have worked in a school, but I am self-employed.
There was one lesson only where the baby screamed throughout, and as I had discussed with my studio, we did the best we could, cut the lesson short and I gave them a full lesson credit.
I am very fortunate in my studio.
Definitely don’t apologize for taking time off.

Phankao said: Nov 12, 2015
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

Danielle—you are sooooo brave!

Marian Goss said: Nov 12, 2015
Marian Goss
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
26 posts

Michaela,
What a nurturing teacher you are… being so concerned about your students during maternity leave. Don’t forget that all the parents who come to you for lessons have had infants too. Any parent who doesn’t understand that you need some time off probably isn’t worth your time. It is definitely hard being self-employed. My biggest concern was how to do without my teaching income. I took about six weeks off with both my children. I did have a homeschool family who had a teenage daughter. She was extremely responsible and would come to my house early in the day for a lesson, then she would stay and babysit my children the rest of the afternoon. I just worked my teaching hours around her availability. Your students will survive without a few weeks of lessons. Those first few weeks after having your baby are so important. You will never have those weeks back.
I have to disagree with another teacher’s post about being self-employed. I knew that being a self-employed violinist would allow me flexibility to choose my hours, decide how much I am worth, and set my own rules. But I also knew that I would get no health benefits or paid vacation or sick time. I certainly don’t expect families to pay me if I am taking an extended leave. It’s just something I prepared for ahead of time or made up for later.

Good luck with the baby. I’m sure you will find much joy in your time at home.

Brecklyn Smith Ferrin said: Nov 20, 2015
Brecklyn Smith Ferrin
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Kaysville, UT
29 posts

I agree, don’t apologize for taking a six week maternity leave. I actually took three months with my first, being lucky that my two sisters are also a Suzuki violin teacher (one of whom was just getting out of college and had few students) and taught my students for me.

With my second I took eight weeks, and my sisters covered for me again.

I was extremely lucky in this regard, but I just want to encourage you to stick to your guns. Your baby is only a baby once, and students come and go. Not only is that time precious, it is also incredibly hard. You are recovering from major physical trauma (whatever way you deliver) and a newborn is incredibly demanding (and exhausting.)

I would make no commitments to your students during that time. I would have been totally overwhelmed by Skype or Facetime lessons, and I have family close to help me with the baby. It was a huge adjustment.

Would it be possible for a guest teacher to do a weekly group class? Or is there a teacher you trust in another city who could do Skype or Facetime lessons?

Friederike said: Nov 21, 2015
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
71 posts

For my first I took 2 months off and had a substitute teacher, who took afterwards one of my teaching days. But I didn’t teach at home.( Suzuki program at a University) The one day I still taught there I took my baby with me( At home it’s much easier with a baby I would say). With number 2 I quit completely at the University and had a few students at home only. Then a few years later they asked me if I could come back and teach there again. That’s just my own experience. I’m also homeschooling, so even now I limit my students. I teach 2 afternoons and some on Saturday at a music school. Blessings, hope you find the best fit for you. Blessings and Congratulations.

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Kathryn Pearson said: Nov 22, 2015
Kathryn Pearson
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Vancouver, WA
2 posts

6 weeks is reasonable—just to heal! If a parent asked about the length of the teaching break, it was hopefully from a point of concern for their own home practice keeping its momentum, not an insinuation that 6 weeks is ‘too long’ to take for maternity leave (only in America have I ever heard that mindset!)

If a man had major abdominal surgery, you’d better believe no one would ask him why he wasn’t back in the saddle BEFORE the doctor’s minimal recommended recovery time. They would say, “Why are you here?!”

I would not offer to teach early/virtual lessons before knowing the results of the childbirth and getting to know the temperament of the baby. If you’re feeling awesome after a few weeks and are getting stir-crazy, feel free to call a few students to restart early. But don’t tell them you will be doing that—it would quickly be taken as a promise to call early and the cloud of expectation will hang over your head. I would not choose to teach during maternity leave, personally, to set a clear boundary that my needs are important and must be respected to have the best end result—a healthy, rested and ready-to-go teacher!

For maternity leave:
Send a text announcing the birth after it happens. A family member can do this for you. A picture of the baby goes a long way to satisfy curiosity. Have them “Play for the baby!”

I send my students home with 1.) a practice plan, 2.) an event to prepare for, and 3.) 2-week goals to accomplish 3x over.

When I resumed teaching, I was sure to put breaks between every 1 hr. 30 min. of teaching.

I hired an inexpensive in-home “Mother’s Helper” teenager to assist me with my children during teaching hours.

Your idea of inviting a guest lecturer or a mini-master-class, or a have your group classes taught by a substitute are great ideas that I wish I had done! (you may have to ask parents to pay for that event, like $__ per student family to cover the cost since teachers often have to drive quite a distance.) Events like these would be amazingly kind and very motivating.

Guard your (physical and mental) health and your baby. This transition is tougher for some than for others. Congratulations on your happy news and on your good pre-planning! Best of luck!

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