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Emily with her husband Ryder, and sons Corey and Tyler

Shay Chan Hodges's picture

Thank you to Mom-Mentum Editor Kate Fineske for graciously allowing me to cross-post this piece, which was originally published at Mom-Mentum.

Depending on the profession and individual circumstances, every mother has her own story about returning to work. Over the past several months we’ve begun highlighting our Mom-mentum members Return-to-work stories. Likewise, in her book Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy, author and regular Mom-mentum blog contributor Shay Chan Hodges presents many diverse stories about the intersection of work and parenting.

In Lean On and Lead, Shay introduces us to Emily Haines-Swatek, a high school technology teacher and career tech coordinator. Emily grew up loving math and made her way through the male-dominated math and computer science disciplines in college with a minor in education. Interested in work that provided more human interaction and job satisfaction, she combined her math and science expertise with her talents as an educator. In an edited excerpt from Shay’s book, Emily shares part of her own return-to-work story as a teacher and describes why it was important for her to balance her family life with supporting young people in technology careers.

As Excerpted from Lean On and Lead by Shay Chan Hodges:

"When I returned home to Hawaii after pursuing my higher education, I got a job at a public high school right away, teaching math and technology. After two years, I needed to choose one subject, and I chose technology due to an exciting new program (Project EAST) that was starting in Maui high schools.

"After I’d been teaching for about ten years, my husband and I had our first child, who was born on the second day of the new school year. I had worked through the pregnancy (my water broke as I was teaching my sub how to use the grade book), and started my leave after the baby was born. Our Department of Education lets you use your sick days for up to six weeks, but I wasn’t physically ready to come back to work when the leave ended. Thankfully, with a doctor’s clearance, I was able to take another three weeks. My husband had been able to stay home for about a week, using sick leave or vacation time.

"By the time I returned to work, the first quarter of the school year had ended. I taught a part-time schedule for the second quarter and returned to work full-time in January. Although I nursed my son until he was almost two, I only pumped the first year. I would lock my door at recesses and express in the classroom.

Overall, I wish there was a bit more flexibility at work, particularly when my family needs me, but I really do like my job and working with my students.

"I enjoyed staying home with my son when he was a newborn and love him dearly, yet I also really like to have my time to work and was excited to return to my career.

"My job is now spent teaching technology half-time and serving as the Career Technology Coordinator half-time. I work on designing curricula, developing the school vision, coordinating with community partners, and securing funding for our programs. We work closely with the Women In Technology program (the goal of which is to promote equality and diversity in the technology disciplines).

"One year, two of my female students got full scholarships to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock because of their involvement in the Project EAST Program. One did not fully appreciate the opportunity and wasn’t sure about going to Arkansas to go to school, and the other (for whom the alternative was staying home for community college) was very grateful for the opportunity to have her college education funded.

"It’s always hard for Maui kids to go to the mainland for school—especially that far. It’s a big change, geographically and culturally, and these students had the additional challenges that women in math and science face. I ended up communicating with both of them a lot for the four years they were going to school—counseling them to basically hang in there. And they did! Both graduated with degrees in information science. The one who was ambivalent about Arkansas ended up settling there and getting a job in her field, and she plans to go back to graduate school. And the other just recently got hired as a programmer here on Maui.

"Returning to work after becoming a parent was challenging and my family is very important to me. At the same time, I feel like my work is a calling and it’s vital to me to make a difference and help young people pursue their careers."

Leave a Comment: What challenges and successes have you faced professionally after becoming a parent? What factors impacted your own return-to-work story?

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