You are definitely in a unique situation. While I did take a maternity leave when I had my son, I was able to start the year, leave for three months in March, and then return for just a week at the end of the year. This was great because I was able to teach most of the year and establish a great relationship with my students before leaving to have my baby. However, many of my colleagues have been in situations similar to yours where they must return to a classroom where another teacher has begun the year with their students.
I think I would take advantage of the fact that you are returning at the beginning of a new year. While it is not a new school year, it is the beginning of 2010. This is a great time for students to take a step back and reflect on the time they have spent together so far this school year. In some ways, it can be treated as a new beginning. (See my post "Ringing in the New Year with Your Students.") If I was in your situation, I would spend time during my first few days back doing activities that are similar to what you would do at the beginning of a school year. While the students already know each other, it is important that they get to know you as well. Spend time sharing things about yourself with the students. (I often create a slideshow of pictures of my family and my favorite places to help the students understand who I am and the things I value.) Other fun activities that will help you get to know your students on a personal level will also be important.
Finally, it is so important to meet with the teacher who has been teaching your class, if possible. He or she should be able to pass along some valuable information on each student that will likely make the transition smoother for you and the students. It is also important to know the rules and routines that have been established in the classroom. While it may be hard for you to adjust to the routines that have been set by another teacher, it will be easiest for you and your students to follow those routines when you first return rather than trying to change everything immediately upon your arrival. Hopefully you can gradually change anything that you would like to do differently once the students have gotten to know you and are comfortable with you as their teacher.
I wish you luck with your return to the classroom. I know that it will certainly not be easy to come back, but teaching really is a wonderfully rewarding job.
I hope that I have been of some help!
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