by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven
LAWRENCE — When Bria Trytten interviewed for a teaching position at Corpus Christi Catholic School here this past July, she was seven months pregnant.
Principal Mary Mattern reassured her that if she came to Corpus Christi for the middle school science position, she wouldn’t be alone — two other teachers were pregnant as well.
But before too long, this Catholic Schools Week story-in-the-making began to resemble a pro-life feature instead.
That’s because three more Corpus Christi teachers soon learned they were expecting as well — and their due dates were smack in the middle of the school year.
“They all told me within a two-week period,” Mattern said with a laugh. “One would be due in September, three in December and one in March.
“It’s unusual to have this many ladies pregnant at once,” she added, “but it’s a sure way to grow our enrollment!”
With an instructional staff of 30 for an enrollment of 330 students in preschool through eighth grade, that meant that one-sixth of the staff would be out for part of the year and require substitutes.
And three of the five middle school teachers were among those expecting.
Fortunately, said Mattern, the community had her back.
“Our parents have been really supportive and accepting of the subs,” said Mattern. “We say that Corpus Christi is a home away from home.”
Sometimes in the classroom, the pregnancy was a teaching moment in itself. At the appropriate time, each teacher informed her students of the baby on the way, and then began preparing for her upcoming absence.
“They were all excited and wanted to meet the baby as soon as possible,” said Trytten, who was the first to deliver. She was just beginning to get to know her students, she said, when her doctor suggested she leave a little earlier than planned.
After Trytten and her husband Ben and 3-year-old daughter Grace welcomed Charlotte on Sept. 24, she went back to visit her class a few times and, of course, kept in touch with those substituting for her.
After returning to her class after Christmas break, Trytten said, “It’s great to be back.”
When Laura Pendleton, middle school math and religion teacher, told her students about her pregnancy, they were “very excited.”
It was a little challenging, however, because she wanted to teach up to the birth.
“Not knowing when my last day would be and how soon I would leave was difficult,” she said.
Pendleton and her husband Will greeted their first child — son Jaxton — 11 days early.
Carolyn Francis, Corpus Christi science, social studies and second-grade math teacher, along with her husband Joe and 21-month-old-son Thomas welcomed Matthew on Dec. 13.
When she first told her class about her pregnancy, she received “lots of congratulations. They were very excited and wanted to feel my tummy.”
Francis believed that getting organized for her sub and saying goodbye to her class were the most difficult parts of her preparations. During her time away from school, Francis has kept in touch with her class and sent photos. She has also brought young Matthew for a visit.
“They thought he was so cute and wanted to touch him,” she said.
Next to arrive was Daniel, the sixth child of Jean Rule, middle school math and religion teacher, and her husband John on Dec. 29. Their other children — Matthew, 15; Erin, 12; Leah, 10; Emily, 7; and Isaac, 3 — were every bit as excited as her classes when she told them.
“They congratulated me, wanted to know if I was done yet, asked who the sub was and when I would be back,” said Rule, joking that the new babies represent job security for the teachers.
One of the hardest things for her, Rule said, was not knowing who her substitute would be or what he or she would be comfortable with.
“The teachers left behind are really taking up lots of slack,” she said. “Jamie [Powell] and Chris [Fertig], the other middle school teachers, are taking care of the things we share, like the homework room after school, as well as putting up with the revolving door of subs.”
Katelyn Davis’ first child won’t arrive until March, but her students are already excited.
Her fifth-grade language arts and religion classes, said Davis, “think it’s the best thing that’s happened. They squealed in excitement and loved the idea. They watch for movement. And if they have to leave the room, they want to know if they’ve missed anything when they return.”
Davis is already preparing not only future lessons, but also her students.
“I’m going to miss them terribly,” she says of her students. “I only live a minute from school, and they’ve already asked me to come over to recess.”
All five teachers believe they receive far greater backing from their school and parish community than they would in public schools. Not only have parents been accepting of the subs, they have also provided support to the pregnant teachers.
“They want to know, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’” Trytten explained. “Everyone knows everyone; they are very supportive.”
Trytten said that while she was on leave, her mother, who had taught at Corpus Christi years ago, passed away. She recalled that when she visited the school one day, Mattern touched her shoulder and said only, “We walk with you.”
“That simple gesture meant a lot,” she said. “It was a sign of real love and support.”
For Davis, the impending birth of her daughter is extra special: She has been a member of Corpus Christi since her birth, and she and her husband Michael were married in the parish last year.
“It’s a blessing to bring a daughter into this family as well,” Davis said. She also said that teaching in a Catholic school was a blessing in itself. “Here I can share my faith and not keep it a secret.”