We hear a lot about the struggles of divorced parents who must split time with their kids during the school year, and about teachers with students whose parents are divorcing, but much less about divorcing teachers.
Navigating divorce while maintaining your job as a teacher is difficult no matter your occupation, but divorcing teachers face unique challenges, including co-parenting, talking to coworkers and HR, and changing their names.
Divorcing Teachers Face Unique Challenges: Here are 4:
Co-parenting presents many difficulties for teachers just starting the divorce process. When deciding on the residential schedule (custody and visitation) of the parenting plan, teachers should keep the following aspects in mind:
- Workday schedule: Teachers tend to start and leave work earlier than those with a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, and the parenting plan should reflect this.
- Summers: The summer is a great time for divorced teachers to spend longer amounts of time with their kids, making trips and other lengthy activities possible. Teachers will want to check their states’ parenting plans to see how they handle summer schedules. For example, the parenting plan for Washington State features a special field for summer scheduling. If your state plan’s default is to maintain the typical daily schedule for summer vacation, you can indicate that you would like more time with your children during the summer, when you are not working.
- Holidays: Not all holidays are included in most typical parenting plans. As a teacher, you can choose to include the specific holidays that your school recognizes, as well as any conference dates and other teacher-related events.
- Time off: Teachers get a limited amount of time off during the school year. If you plan on taking certain dates off of work to spend with your children, such as birthdays or special religious holidays, you may want to specify that in your parenting plan to avoid any complications down the road.
Telling Your Boss and Coworkers
Getting divorced is a major life event and, no matter how open with your coworkers you plan on being, you need to tell your boss first. You can choose to ask your boss to keep this information confidential or to respectfully share it with your fellow teachers to avoid uncomfortable misunderstandings later on. Either way, your boss will need to know about any time off you need to meet with your lawyer, go to court, or just collect yourself emotionally. Stick to the facts, and the conversation will be as painless as possible.
If you want to tell your coworkers about your divorce personally, that is up to you. Just consider how close you are and whether you feel comfortable with them knowing about your personal life.
Talking to HR
You’ll want to talk to HR early on in the divorce process to update paperwork and discuss how it may affect your health, life, and disability insurance and your teacher pension. If you go to trial, the judge will get to decide what happens to your teacher pension: It may remain with you entirely, be divided at retirement, be accelerated, or even refunded. This all depends on the financial states of both you and your former spouse.
Changing Your Name
Whether or not to change your name is always a difficult decision, but especially so for teachers. Teachers often play large roles in their students’ lives, and their names may take on more meaning than those of other adults. What’s more, younger students may have a hard time understanding the name change and may ask questions that are hard for you to answer.
Keep this in mind when making your decision, and remember that your HR department is there to help. You may decide that you want to change your name legally, but keep using your former last name in the classroom to avoid confusion — or not; the decision is up to you. If you do decide to change your classroom name, just remember to keep explanations simple; if your students have more questions, they can go to their parents.