Get Down with the Sickness

One of the things I like most about teaching is the opportunity to swap and share ideas and philosophies with other members of staff.  We have all lived wonderfully varied lives and the experiences of our colleagues can often provide more beneficial nuggets of CPD than most staff meetings.

This post is about one such nugget.  Spoilers - it gets a bit grim...

Picture the scene:  It is about halfway through the first Autumn Term and I am settling into my role at a new school.  The weather has turned, rather quickly, from the gentle, still-sunny days of September to a rather brutal October onslaught of torrential rain and cruel wind.  Every other child in my class has a cold and, being the generous little carrier monkeys that they are, they have given it to me.

However, I am a teacher and, despite my wife's logical protestations, I go into work.

A brief pause in the narrative for some audience participation.

Hands up if you have ever heard yourself say some variant of the following:

You don't understand; I have to go in.  The children need me to be there.  We're starting/finishing a big/important/exciting piece of work/new topic.  I wish I could stay home, but I just can't.

We've all said it.  Generally, it is teacher-talk for 'I haven't planned my week nearly well enough to leave work for a supply teacher.'  So, feeling like Death interning at the Customer Services department of a local council office, we drag ourselves to school.  Breaking the 'if they're sick, please keep them at home so that other people don't catch it' rule we offer many a parent.  We are the teacher; we must teach!

Back to the story...

I had dragged myself into school and I must have looked "proper rough" because the first thing my (very lovely) year-group partner said to me was, "Carl, you look terrible.  You should go home."

I gave the usual protestations but she interrupted me with some of the best advice I have ever received from a colleague:

"Carl, on the way home tonight you could get hit by a bus and die.  Your class would have a teacher in the morning.  You are wonderful but you are replaceable."

 Now, I'm an Aries, so the thought of the world continuing to spin without me is very difficult to grasp, but she was absolutely right.  I'm not saying that the children wouldn't miss me but the school would replace me.  They'd have to.  And if they could replace me permanently, then they could cover me for a day.  I would love to say that I took my freshly Tyler Durden-ed self to the Head's office there and then to announce that I was ill and was going home.  I didn't (of course I didn't!).  I crawled through the rest of the day and said that I would not be in the next day.

The point is this: as teachers, we are important; not essential.  Too often we feel like the world will explode if we take a sick day.  It won't.  Or we feel this immense guilt because little Rebecca doesn't react well to strange adults and if she reacts badly then the whole class will be disrupted.  She might; it will be managed without you.

As teachers, we have decided to enter a profession where we give more than we get.  To do that effectively, we have to be at our best (or at least 85% or above).  You can't do that if you're ill.  And let's not forget the myriad other duties you have to perform.  Teaching is draining both mentally and physically.  At the risk of repeating myself, you have to be healthy to do it.

I know that some management teams have a habit of making you feel like you are breaking some sort of law when you call in sick.  Often the paperwork on the subject becomes very demanding: You must call, NOT text, before 7am... and I understand why.  Schools have to be able to book supply cover and the good ones, the really good ones are booked out by 8am.  It also makes sense that you have to call and not text.  In fact, looking beyond the implied strictness, it is a very reasonable request.  Plus, our contracts allow for a certain amount of sick days (usually between 6 and 8) in any given year.  On top of this, when you do make the phone call, you're often told to get well and let the school know if you'll be in the next day.  

Most importantly though, the world doesn't end.  Just like it didn't end when you went on that CPD course you were excited about (not for the CPD, for the lava-hot coffee and those biscuits that come in packs of two).  Just like it hadn't ended during all those years you weren't a member of the school, and just like it won't end after you leave that school for another (or for something totally different - more on that in posts-yet-to-come).

I know that school funding is being cut and supply budgets are not what they were but they do still exist.  Anyway, at the risk of sounding blunt, as a teacher, the budget is not your concern.  Your concern is your class and their progress.  They will progress better with a teacher who is not mainlining pure Lemsip and stuffing their nostrils with tissues.  

Take a day; get better.  If you feel really guilty, you can text your TA at lunchtime.

Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings