Three years ago Elizabeth Seery was feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and conflicted.
The third grade teacher at the Betsy Ross Elementary School had just returned from a six week maternity leave after giving birth to her first child. She was feeling guilty about not spending more time with her baby boy, Rocco, and exhausted from teaching third grade all week and caring for a new baby.
She approached her principal, Bill Milnamow, with her concerns and spoke about taking a leave of absence during the next school year. Milnamow talked to District 91 superintendent Randolph Tinder, who suggested that perhaps job sharing might be a solution.
“I didn’t even know it was an option,” recalled Seery recently.
At the same time Julie Simon, who had taught third grade in Skokie before taking a year off to have a baby, was thinking about returning to teaching.
In May of 2002 Simon said she saw a posting on a Cook County teachers web site, contacted District 91 and was hired.
“I really wanted to job share,” said Simon.
For the last three years Seery and Simon have shared the third grade classroom at Betsy Ross School and have started a bit of trend in District 91.
This year Debbie Bullens and Anne Rack have split the job of teaching Language Arts and Reading to eighth graders at the Forest Park Middle School and next year Kathleen Bradford and Cara Carmody will share a second grade classroom at Garfield Elementary School.
The job sharing has been a success allowing mothers to both spend time with their children and continue teaching and allowing the District to hold on to talented teachers.
Tinder is a advocate of job sharing and has used it in other districts where he has worked.
“When you have excellent people who have families who have to, or want to, work part time we want to keep them,” said Tinder. “We want the expertise for whatever time they can give us. Liz Seery is an excellent teacher. We wanted any part of her time that she could give.”
Tinder also noted that job sharing allows the District to retain good teachers and that, most often, they will eventually return to full time work.
Teachers who job share in District 91 are paid exactly one half of their full time salary and one half of their fringe benefits, Tinder said. In addition, they accrue seniority at the normal rate.
Although job sharing is becoming increasingly common, it is not widespread.
There are no current job shares in Oak Park’s District 97 or in River Forest District 90, although District 97 had one job share last year according to officials in those districts.
In District 91, however, everyone is happy with the arrangement.
Seery, who gave birth to another son in the summer of 2003, has enjoyed teaching and having more time with her children.
“I’m coming in fresh instead of exhausted and burned out,” said Seery. “On my days (at school) I’m really glad to be there. On days I’m home I’m glad to be home with my kids.”
Simon, who just gave birth to her second child, a son, on March 3, is equally happy with the arrangement.
“It allows you to balance your life,” said Simon, who taught the day before giving birth to Isaac and is now on maternity leave. She plans to return to the job share at Betsy Ross.
The first year Seery and Simon shared a classroom they split the day. Seery taught in the morning and Simon taught in the afternoon. They discovered that teaching every day complicated child care and wasted time because both have substantial commutes to Forest Park.
So, for the last two years they have split the week with Seery teaching all day Monday and Wednesday plus Thursday mornings and Simon, and now substitute Veronica Cash teaching Tuesday, Thursday afternoons, and Friday.
Seery does the lesson planning for reading, language arts, spelling and handwriting, while Simon did the lesson plans for science, social studies, and math.
Debbie Bullens, a 28-year-old who has taught eight grade reading and language arts at the Forest Park Middle School for six years, gave birth to her son Kevin 11 months ago.
“I didn’t want to be a full time working mother,” said Bullens. Yet she needed, and wanted to continue to work.
While she was pregnant Bullens thought job sharing would be the solution. She talked about it with principal Karen Bukowski and then met with Tinder who was enthusiastic about
When Bullens returned to her classroom this past fall, she was sharing it with Anne Rack, a former lawyer who was finishing her Masters in Education at Dominican University.
For Rack who had worked as a substitute teacher in Oak Park District 97 for the past four years, job sharing has been an excellent way to begin her new career and to have the time to finish the two classes she needed for her Master’s degree.
“It’s been a great way to start,” said Rack, 44, who has two daughters, a seventh grader and a high school sophomore and who wants to teach full time in the near future.
“I really chose it because I liked the feel of the school,” she said.
Likewise, Bullens is just as happy with the arrangement.
“I think it’s working out very well,” said Bullens. “It probably has exceeded my expectations. As a teacher it has allowed me to continue my career and I’m still getting a substantial income.”
Bullens and Rack work their job share a little differently than Seery and Simon.
They trade weeks: one is in the classroom from Thursday until the following Wednesday and then the other one takes over for the next week. That way their students see both teachers each week.
For job sharing to work, they all agree that communication is essential.
The teachers e-mail each other constantly, often from home after their kids have gone to sleep, to keep their partner abreast of what has been going on in their classroom.
In addition, they meet in person once a week and talk things over, they talk occasionally on the phone, and leave detailed notes for each other.
They say their students take having two teachers in stride with only an occasional third grader getting confused and calling one teacher by the other’s name.
They also say it is important that job sharing partners have similar teaching styles and temperament so that kids get consistent messages in the classroom.
Seery and Simon are both very much hands on teachers while Bullens and Rack both have even temperaments amidst the occasional chaos of middle school.
The teachers also handle child care a little bit differently.
Seery’s husband Brain is an airplane mechanic who works nights so he takes care of their two children in their Mundelein home while she is teaching.
Simon’s daughter attends preschool on days when she is teaching.
Bullens’ mother, who lives in Elmwood Park, comes to Bullen’s River Forest home to take care of Kevin when she is teaching.
Rack’s children are in school.
The newest job share in District 91, between Carmody and Bradford will take job sharing to a new level when they begin
Carmody is currently a full time fourth grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School, on maternity leave after giving birth to her son Patrick on January 6.
Bradford is the second grade teacher at Garfield and is due to have her first child in May.
Next year the two, who have been friends since kindergarten, will not only share the second grade at Garfield, but they will also take care of each other’s babies when the other is teaching.
For the women, the flexibility job sharing provides, allows them to maintain a
balanced life, emotionally, personally,
physically and professionally.