By: Barira Sheikh
Erica Montenegro is a 30 years old Biology and Environmental teacher at Senn High School, living in Chicago. While teaching at an Elementary School she was expected to have a baby. After her son Vicente was born she was still teaching as a full time teacher. While her son was growing she had to face many struggles in the school with her Co- Workers and the supervisors, this changed her whole life and gave her a lesson that she could use next time. I interviewed her about this very special, life-changing moment.
Barira: Tell me about your experience teaching before you had kids.
Mrs. Montenegro: Actually, I started teaching when I was pregnant with him, so my prior experience in teaching is really me being pregnant so, even that pulled its own challenges. Your body is changing so much and all of your energy is being directed over the baby to grow inside of you so you are constantly tired.
Barira: Was that your first year teaching?
Mrs: Montenegro: That was my first year officially full time teaching, though I was a substitute teacher and have covered classes for other teachers. I can compare the amount of pressure that you have as a normal full time teacher to what I have experienced.
Barira: After Vicente was born, how did teaching change?
Mrs. Montenegro: Because I choose to breastfeed him, most of the preps were dedicated to pumping milk for him so I couldn’t dedicate a lot of time for preparing my lessons or doing a lot of grading. I had to pump food and pump milk when I was at work as well. It was very difficult for eight months because he actually woke up to eat every two-hrs. I would feed him at 10 before I went to sleep and it was a continuous cycle from there. I had no time for anything except him.
Barira: Did the principal ever get mad at you or did you get your lessons prepared on time?
Mrs. Montenegro: No my work suffered primarily punctuality. The classes started at 8:45 and I use to live very close at that time so I would rush to feed him, which takes 10 min and that would give me 20 min. I would be at school at time which was good but sometimes things happen and maybe I was 5 mins late, that meant that I didnt walked my students up so some of my co -workers would do it for me. My co-workers got irritated with that concept that they acted like it was a privilege that I was walking 5 mins late and they were not very understanding. They complained to my department lead and she had a conversation with me.
Barira: Did you had a break while you were pregnant?
Mrs. Montenegro: No because I got pregnant in the beginning of the school year. I had him on June 26 and our last day of work was June 25 so I had to work till then. I went to labor the night after our last day of work and I worked all the way through the end of my pregnancy, there was no break. I had seven weeks off with him but of course, unpaid time. I didn’t had maternity leave officially.
Barira: What were your weakness after seven weeks of break and starting teaching again?
Mrs. Montenegro: Because I was still breastfeeding him and seven weeks wasn’t enough time to get my life in order, or for my body to fully recover, for me to get into a routine, for my son to develop a regular sleeping pattern, nothing was normal about my life after weeks. At seven weeks after having a baby all of a sudden adding to the chaos and trying to get back to normal while starting a school year and chaos that brings, It just took a very long time to find normal to the routine. That was very difficult.
Barira: What were your strengths after the break and teaching? Was there anything different?
Mrs. Montenegro: I think I learned to be more efficient with class time. I had to balance the work life with home life and is not realistic. When I get home my son wants my attention and if I bring papers home, that’s not flexible, so I end up sacrificing time and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I tried to composite. I learned to be more efficient with my time inside the classroom, I started to incorporate things like the way students helped me do the assessments and asses each other, student would collect all of their work in a portfolio system to help me maximize any down time.
Barira: Is there any main conflict you had as a result of being a mom and with your co-workers?
Mrs. Montenegro: I would arrive a couple of minutes late so my co workers had to walk my students up so that was something that was brought up to the attention to my supervisor. I also pumped during my lunch, I would leave meetings early or I would arrive to meeting late because our meetings were held during our lunch. Enough of these behaviors accumulated to the point where my supervisor decided that she needed to sit down and talk to me. She also brought up the punctuality in front of other co workers and this included my male co workers and so I had to say in front of everybody the reason that is happening, so that was too much information that my male co workers didn’t needed to know. I felt very disrespected by that and so I had to pull my supervisor aside after that meeting and I had to explain to her that I have rights. The only breaks we have is our lunches and our preps and so the way they were distributed throughout my day and the only real chance I had to pump was at lunch so I had to explain to her that her bringing up these issues especially in front of my colleagues was a violation of my privacy and secondly the fact that she was making these an issues was a violation of my labor rights as a working mother and I had to remind her or rather inform her that if she continue to push this as an issue I would have to get my lawyers involve because that was a direct violation of my rights. It was a respectful talk, no one yelled at each other but it did escalate to the point where I had to say, these are my rights and if you feel that you need to communicate to the entire department I will file a complain about violating my privacy.
Barira: Did your supervisor have a baby of her own?
Mrs. Montenegro: Yes, she did but, her daughter was 40 years old, so it had been a long time since she experienced being a new mom. She was a stay at home mom at the time, so she couldn’t relate to the challenges of being a working parent.
Barira: How did this change your life?
Mrs. Montenegro: It made me think about when I first started teaching or preparing to teach because I was in school for my teaching degree for 4 years before I became a teacher. Also made me think of before I got pregnant, so when I thought of being a teacher I thought that it would be a great career and to be a good parent as well because you know in my mind I would have the same time with my child. I would have the same days off with him, I would have similar times of dismissal, I would get out of school and be able to spend more time with my child after work. I realized that’s not the case, teaching is not really a profession that gives you a life balance and it requires a lot of you and your own time. Everyone thinks that we have short work days but it’s impossible to do everything that needs to be done, to win a class, to teach a class within the 7 hrs that we are officially paid for, so there is a lot of work doing at home.