This past semester, I happily filled in and taught the last third of an Elementary Latin course for another graduate student who went on maternity leave. This experience (re)opened my eyes to many challenges facing female teachers and professors, especially those who want to be parents: assumptions that the new mothers were not serious about their work (research and/or teaching), sexism among students directed towards their teacher, and unclear policies about maternity leave for graduate students. All of this on top of the changes inherent in pregnancy, preparing one’s home for a new child, and raising an infant (For a much better discussion of these issues, see this response to this article). That said, there were also positives: very supportive friends, colleagues, professors, and department head and the challenge and fun of seeing (and using) different teaching approaches firsthand. My friend and I are both very conscientious people so we had a plan in place before she began maternity leave, and the maternity leave actually went very smoothly for both of us.
Things we handled well
- We had a plan for when I would begin teaching so that the students would experience as little disruption as possible.
- We discussed her teaching methods and her class ahead of time. I wanted to balance continuity with her style and using my own style. For me, our discussions of her teaching style were the most useful. This happened to be a very passive class that we both struggled to get to participate, so I was very happy that she told me how well cold-calling on students worked with this class. Had we not discussed this and had I not known this about the students, the class would not have gone well and it would have shaken my confidence in my teaching abilities.
- We discussed her assessments and grading method ahead of time. Regardless of my own preferences and style, I felt the students deserved continuity in grading practices. Therefore, we made sure that the grades were determined in roughly the same way. We also shared the grade book through Dropbox and we copied each other on student e-mail, so we both had all the information about each of the students’ grades and so the students couldn’t effectively play one of us against the other. This last part was most helpful when the semester ended because the university required her to submit the grades.
- Well in advance, I was added to the course’s BlackBoard site so that I could share information and files with students.
- We trusted each other. She gave me an honest appraisal of where her students were before I started teaching, and she trusted that I would teach them the new material. Neither of us saw the other as someone meddling in the other’s class. We saw each other as a team to help these students and to help her get through her pregnancy. We even made sure that the students’ final grades made sense to both of us before they were submitted.
Things we could have done better
- Before I began teaching her class, she sent an e-mail to the students explaining that I would be teaching their class for the rest of the semester. This e-mail was great, and I re-explained the situation on the first day that I taught the class. In retrospect, I would have given the students a little more information about how we were working together to tabulate their grades so that there was a little more transparency. I have wondered if this greater transparency would have encouraged students to attend class more regularly–many students’ attendance seemed to be erratic while I taught.
- On a similar note, we would have liked me to have introduced myself to the class with her present to ease the transition for the students.
- I would have liked to observe her teach this class before I taught it, but pregnancy’s timing didn’t allow this to happen. Everything worked out fine without this observation, though.
Overall, I’m very happy to have substituted for my friend. It was a great experience and helped give me new tools in my teaching toolbox (for example, it reinforced the value of cold-calling and extensively drilling Latin forms). I am also very happy that I helped ease my friend’s new journey of mixing motherhood and academia.