I seriously need to shorten that title. Nonetheless, it gets my topic across – there are many things to think about as you mull your options if you want to take a teacher funded leave of absence. More commonly referred to as a fraction, like ” 4 over 5″ , this leave of absence is when you take a percentage of pay off your salary for a certain amount of time in order to take a year off in the future and still have pay cheques coming in. For example, I opted for “3 over 4”: in this case, I was receiving 75% of my pay over the first three working years, so I could have the fourth year off, but still receive that 75% of my salary.
This was such an amazing decision for me! I’ve heard of this option even before becoming a teacher, and with one month of school to go in my final working year, I’m getting pretty excited to start my year away from school. As it gets closer, I have a number of well wishes and even some mild envy as I start. A number of people ask me the personal questions like what I plan to do, but also a number of people ask the logistics of making this work, positive and negative. So, I’ve decided to answer some questions and give some practical advice if you are thinking about going down this road.
First, some basic questions I typically get asked in terms of retirement, benefits and return to work.
Retirement – taking this leave does not alter or lengthen my retirement date or amount. I am contributing 100% of my pension amounts even while on 75% pay. I must do this all four years to keep the date and amount the same.
Benefits – yes, I still am covered by my benefits plan. I’m still an employee of the board, I’m still contributing to the plan. The same as on maternity leave, you have coverage and don’t need to be afraid of filling a prescription.
Return to Work – my job is still there when I return. I do not lose my seniority or my job. I realize lots of turmoil can happen, but in MOST cases, you return to the same school and same position. (teacher)
These seem to be the most basic in terms of employment and finances. (let’s face it, we all want to know this first!) There are also a number of other things you need to think about before embarking on this leave. Consider the following:
1) Work stability. Every year it seems boards declare employees surplus and/or redundant. Is your position relatively safe from these situations? It’s important to know if you will be returning to work in the fall or may have to change your status. (full time, part time, filling lto lines, etc)
2. Personal Stability. Early in my career, I tended to move a lot. I was searching for a place to root, which ended up taking me to a few districts. I also worked for two different boards seeking full time employment. Are you certain you will live and work in this area for a minimum of four years?
3. Economic Stability – Are you paying off loans or have large debt? Will taking a reduction in pay still allow you to function and pay bills? (or live the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed?)
4. Parenthood. I’m female, I may start or continue to build my family. Will I need a maternity leave during this time? Will going on EI benefits affect my standard of living? If it’s your spouse, can you afford this pay difference while your spouse is off on leave?
5. Grid Placement. I thought a long time whether I could make it to the top of the grid and would this benefit me. Obviously, the higher your starting salary, the higher your percentage pay will be. Are you still taking courses? Are you still climbing the experience ladder? Is it worth waiting a few years to finish these things off before planning a year off?
6. Overall health. I am a relatively healthy person. I do not have chronic or recurring illnesses that I need to deal with.
7. Your Whimsy. Are you someone who can just pick up and walk away? Do you like to? If you are someone that does or has taken unpaid leaves, this structure may not fit your lifestyle, as you may need to “stay put” for awhile. Are you able to sacrifice some bigger spending and larger toys while on a bit of a restricted budget?
8. Savings. Can you save? I had a start date in mind. While I was approaching my start date, I was saving my full time salary in as many ways as possible. I wanted a “safety net” in case I found I couldn’t always reach my monthly budget. Also, when you have that time off, you want to do something, too!! Saving for the future can help ensure you have an enjoyable year off and not feel stuck to a budget you can’t enjoy.
This is a longer list than I intended when I first sat down to write, but honestly, it does cover a lot of what I had to consider when I decided to do this. Now, obviously, if something happens or you just change your mind, you can leave the plan at any time and get all your money back. (just remember they do that all at once and you could get taxed heavily). By no means is this meant to be a burden on you! YOU choose it and it’s meant to give an incentive to have a year to enjoy for yourself. In unforeseen circumstances enter your life, you are not bound to continue it.
So, what exactly fell into place for me? I live and work in my hometown, I don’t foresee moving and love being near my extended family. I waited until my daughter was in school full time to reduce my day care costs. I took courses and added years experience to make it to the top of the grid. I had arrived and it was time.
The good news is: IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!! I have an excitement I haven’t felt in quite some time. A common question I get asked is, “Will you get bored?”. What? How does that even cross your mind? No way! I can be a volunteer, help at my daughter’s school, travel off season, take a course, learn something new, take up a hobby, make new friends, join a gym, nap, and on and on and on. The difference between this and retirement is that I know I have to go back. Why not take a year to do some things we all wish we had more time to do? And when I return I’ll have a renewed energy to teach and some life lessons under my belt to make me that much better in the classroom.
I would encourage any person whose employer offers this type of leave to consider it. I was able to stick to my budget, live comfortably within my means, save up and now am looking to a year full of possibilities. Cheers!