There comes a time in many teachers’ lives when we need to take a leave of absence, whether it is for mental health, physical health, or for a family member. Often, we try to keep going, using up sick days here and there, forcing ourselves to be in two places and at our best in two places, but that just does not work for many situations. We suffer, our students suffer, and our own families suffer. Once we get to the point of realizing that we just can’t do it all, the only real option left is a leave.
Once the decision is made, there are some big things to do quickly. First of all, talk with your union rep (if you have one) or, better, your local president. That person often is your best resource for what you need to do. Next, contact your insurance if you have short-term coverage. If you don’t, contact your benefits office to get that started right away. There are insurance forms that have to get filled out before you can take a leave (unless it’s an emergency, and then that paperwork can get filed later). Once you start getting some of that in place, then you need to talk with HR and get the FMLA paperwork. Your doctor will have to fill out something if you are taking the leave for yourself, and there is often a form for requesting a leave from your district anyway. So, to recap:
- Contact union for district-specific info;
- Make sure you have short-term coverage with insurance (if possible);
- Contact insurance company for their forms;
- Get FMLA forms from district so doctor’s office has everything at once to fill out and send in;
- Last, but definitely not least, document it all! Faxing is better so you keep the original forms and can re-fax if the paperwork gets lost (ask me how I know…).
This is never an easy decision. The kids are going to hate it, your administration will not be happy, but if you don’t take care of yourself and your family, no one will. Once you have come to this decision, you need to get some big things set in the classroom for being away. The list includes:
- Updating all grades as best you can, as well as any way to deal with big grade items before any long-term substitute can take over;
- Getting anything important out of your classroom before the leave starts since you will not be allowed on school grounds during the leave due to liability;
- Creating a sub binder with plans (at least a calendar of what should be covered each day during the leave), a list of kids’ needs, seating charts, and copies of any handouts with prep marked and number of copies on it;
- Creating another way for students and parents to get a hold of you, if needed or desired.
Keep in mind: FMLA exists for you and is your right to take when needed. It won’t go perfectly, but you can mitigate a lot and do your best for your students. Our job, while amazing and worth so many sacrifices, is not worth losing our lives over. If you need to take the leave and you can afford it in any way, take it.