Hefty price to pay

Overlooked sacrifices and planning that go into a teacher’s pregnancy
A look into one of the 18 pages of lesson plans Zelei provided her long-term sub with in order for her students to maintain some ounce of normalcy.
A look into one of the 18 pages of lesson plans Zelei provided her long-term sub with in order for her students to maintain some ounce of normalcy.

In a career where attendance is vital, opportunities for extended leave are limited. With a shortage of public school teachers throughout the country, many young adults have taken interest in educational careers. 

Young teachers have to find a balance between their personal and work lives, especially with their less flexible schedule. There is also a need for consistency in a student’s educational life. This is one of the many things teachers are aware of before taking their jobs.

Due to the school’s relative location to a youthful and affluent city, many young teachers are finding their way into many jobs across the district, but deviating from their personal life plans is not a sacrifice they should have to make. 

In the 2023-2024 school year, three Elkhorn North teachers took maternity leave due to new additions to their families, yet teaching remained one of their core concerns throughout this time. 

“The first thing that came to my mind when the doctors said I was going to go into labor and have the baby was ‘Oh my gosh I don’t have everything printed for my students’,” science teacher Cheyanne Zelei said. “My students were still on my mind;  it wasn’t even the fact that I was about to give birth.”

With the joys of becoming a mother forced to share the limelight with teaching, many teachers throughout the state argue for the necessity of maternity leave for those in the educational field. 

The absence of a paid  maternity leave is not just an Elkhorn Public Schools issue, as the state of Nebraska does not give paid maternity or paternity leave, extending this problem to male and female teachers alike. Math teacher Andy King has similarly experienced the lack of paid  leave first hand.

“I was lucky this year because I was able to have the same sub the whole time who I taught with a while back,” King said. “My first year, though, I had a different sub all the time and had to keep coming back to the school to work on and prepare stuff even when my wife just had the baby.”

Math teacher Andy King with his wife and 3 kids. King has been teaching at Elkhorn North since its opening and has had to plan for prolonged absences due to paternity leave multiple times. Photo courtesy of Andy King.

Prolonged absences are not only diminishing to some students, but the planning required is often  extensive and tiring for teachers. Thankfully, ENHS is not limited to one teacher per subject and students can get extra help outside of class such as tutoring.

“When I told my kids that they would have a long term sub I reminded them all that at the end of the day I am not the only biology or anatomy teacher,” Zelei said. “I made sure that they knew that the other science teachers were more than willing to help them if they needed.”

When other teachers are also gone, however, many students see a decline in both their confidence in the subject and their grades.

One of the many sacrifices teachers make everyday as a result of the lack of paid maternity leave is coming into school sick so that their students can efficiently learn.

Absences do not only affect the teacher’s plans, but also, at times, the students’ learning abilities. 

Biology and Anatomy teacher Cheyanne Zelei and her husband in the hospital with her baby. Zelei remained absent due to maternity leave and had a long term sub for her students. Photo courtesy of Cheyanne Zelei.

“I think it was really hard to adapt to a new learning environment,” sophomore Morgan Bitcon said. “She [Zelei] was my favorite teacher and her being gone really did drop my grade a bit.”

Grades taking a hit due to teacher absences is not  uncommon for high school students. Even when a teacher misses a week of school, the students are often left grappling at the content in an attempt to teach themselves.

The stress of a pregnancy also impacts the teachers, particularly to the financial concerns. 

“Thankfully I found out early and had enough time to save money and put things away just in case we had to dip into those types of savings,” Zelei said. “If I didn’t find out as soon as I did I would not have been able to survive.” 

Teachers across Nebraska are  constantly faced with challenges when it comes to enough financial security. Regardless of a person’s career choice, it is of utmost importance for change to occur in the realm of paid maternity and paternity leave.

Even with the current circumstances, many still find the hefty price to pay worth it in the end.

“But to me, the lack of maternity leave was worth it,” Zelei said. “I just wanted to make sure that I could do what I love while still prioritizing my future life.”

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