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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sick days and swine flu

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 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.


Kate said...

You did not have Dutch Elm Disease. Silly Mister Teacher. I actually did get ringworm. Last year. True story.

The lucky few with a SmartBoard can record a lesson so the sub just has to push "play". Of course you have to stay at school an extra hour to record lessons for your classes. But it cuts down on the anxiety of what sub you are going to get. But it's still a pain.

Anonymous said...

I am currently trying to write 4 weeks worth of lesson plans for my maternity leave. Due to the timing, they aren't going to get my a certified sub, so I have to plan the whole time.

Fortunately, I have not been sick once the whole pregnancy. But man to I hate taking sick days. I am not good at planning in advance for anyone else.

You know what I hate though? The para educators at my school that come to school totally sick. I mean contagious sick. Ladies, ladies, STAY HOME!!

Also, we have had our share of crazy subs. One, that we still use, has been known to take folders and sheets of stickers from the teacher's supply home for her kids. Others have walked away from a class to make personal calls or just forgotten the kids all together. One just flat out disappeared after lunch one day.

Anonymous said...

Our school district just decided to close for a week earlier today. I am desperately hoping that we will not need to make up these days in June because I have so been counting down the days already. And you are so right about calling in sick being more trouble than it's worth. I have so many unused sick days its ridiculous. Luckily we do have incentive pay for not using sick days so that's a plus.

Margaret said...

You said it all when you said, "For another thing, taking a sick day as a teacher is often much more work than it's worth."
It takes more time (&paper) to explain what to do than to actually do it. And it's pretty safe to count on the fact that the kids will rush through anything they get that day,which means you have to have more activities than normal ready, b/c the subs don't know the kids and how to make them reflect as they go - the kids just want to be DONE! as quickly as they can.
I always get an inner twinge of "you hypocrite!" whenever I'm teaching that part of the health curriculum that preaches staying home when you're sick - I don't do that unless I am feverish or can't be away from a bathroom. I stopped feeling guilty about it a long time ago, because whatever it is, I got it from the kids who should've stayed home, but didn't!

Mister Teacher said...

Ugh, making sub plans is such a pain in the butt!

Margaret, you are exactly right, I've gone to school and had people tell me I was going to infect them... Maybe not the best judgement, but better than scrambling to make sub plans! :)

Unknown said...

Making sub plans may be a pain, but as a sub I want to thank all of you who do! Nothing is worse than showing up and having to scramble because a teacher didn't leave enough work. But believe it or not, I have been working all year in three different disticts and not once have I been left without a lesson plan... even if it was scribbled on a post-it. And guys, PLEASE LEAVE SEATING CHARTS. How am I supposed to manage a kid if he won't tell me his name?