It would seem that the H1N1 virus, formerly known as Swine Flu, formerly known as Porky's Dilemma, has caused several entire school districts around the area to shut down for a week or more.
Teachers and students really didn't have a choice of taking these days off or going to school, but I thought it would still be an appropriate time to run an old Mr. Teacher article about teachers and sick days, according to the NORMAL procedures.
This article about the difficulties of taking a day off is titled "Does This Look Infected to You?" and it originally ran at education.com on November 20, 2007.
For most people in most professions, taking a sick day isn't too tricky. If you feel stuffy sinuses or that tell-tale tickle in the back of the throat, you just call your boss from the luxury of your soft, warm bed and let him know you won't be in. As long as you didn't have any important meetings or deadlines that day, it probably won't be that big of a deal.
When I was an engineer and had to take a sick day, people hardly even noticed my absence. This may have been thanks to the life-sized mannequin I kept around for just such occasions -- its productivity wasn't much less than mine.
But I have discovered (much to my dismay) that things are very different in the world of teaching.
First of all, it's far easier to get sick. Four years of teaching have brought more illnesses than four hundred years of engineering ever could. I had a stomach flu once in college, but aside from that, only the common cold and the obligatory childhood chickenpox had marred my otherwise healthy life.
As a teacher, I've already had strep throat, sinusitis, laryngitis, ringworm, mad cow disease, and Dutch elm disease. There have also been cases of pneumonia, pinkeye, scarlet fever, and meningitis at my school, which thankfully, I haven't had to mark off on my Yahtzee card just yet.
For another thing, taking a sick day as a teacher is often much more work than it's worth. The reason for that basically boils down to those pesky kids. Unlike a computer, which will just sit on your desk, happily doing nothing while you're gone, students actually need someone there to give them direction. Since the other teachers have their own kids to worry about, an absence necessitates a substitute teacher.
And this is why many teachers would just as soon come to school with a full-blown case of Asian bird flu than go through the hassle of preparing for a sub.
Now I don't mean this as a criticism of substitute teachers. There are some fantastic subs out there. Unfortunately, there are also some less than fantastic subs, and you very rarely know whom you're going to get on such short notice. I once came back from a sick day to find my desk raided and all of my cough drops gone (I guess the sub was sick too!). Another teacher found that a sub had let her kids cut up all of her construction paper. Believe it or not, this was NOT on the lesson plan!
Even just one experience like that can make a teacher leery of staying home sick.
There's also the small matter of actually having materials prepared and ready for a substitute to come in and find. Personally, I haven't quite mastered that nuance, and I know I'm not alone in that regard.
So the next time your child comes home and tells you about their substitute teacher, you might want to light a candle and say a prayer. Because more than likely, that poor regular teacher is REALLY sick.