I’ve been sick with a bad cold for the last few days. You know: sinus headache, sneezing, sore throat, no energy,  really, really red nose. And I just keep thinking what a joy… well, maybe ‘joy’ is a bit strong… luxury, maybe…relief, surely… it is to be sick and be retired. To be able to take a sick day when I need it.

I taught high school English for many years and teaching is one of those jobs where you can’t just be sick. And if you are you cannot always take a sick day. There are always complications!

Sick with a cold – again.
By the way, that IS a thermometer in my mouth.

Complication #1
Can you be sick? Are your classes at a place in the curriculum where you can be away and not totally mess up the timing of tests, computer lab bookings, exam review etc etc. Do you have out of school meetings? Who will supervise that field trip or volleyball game if the teacher/coach is sick?

Complication #2
Who will cover your classes? In the old days we contacted our own supply teachers. I remember back in the 1980’s spending hours on the phone, with the list of supply teachers in front of me, trying to track down someone who was home (and who might return my call,) who was free the following day, and who was still currently supply teaching. Due to lack of contract teaching jobs, many supply teachers had given up hope of ever being hired full time and were doing other work.
In the last 10 years or so, classes have frequently been covered by other staff members, your colleagues. Administration makes the last minute decision whether classes are covered by supply teachers (if the supply budget is healthy) or by an “on-call.” On-calls are teachers on staff who, instead of having their prep period, now have to cover your class. Making you REALLY popular!

Complication #3
Work for the students. What… oh, what can you give  them to do that will be productive and not require your presence? These days it’s best to assume that the teacher covering your class will not know how to teach your subject. This might be the case even if it is a supply teacher (they’re robo-called, now. Really, they are. At least here in Ontario) So the work needs to be something the students have already started … or for which you have prepared extensive handouts of explanation and examples. This way the (probable) on-call teacher will be there to keep order, make sure the kids are working…and hopefully be able to do a little work of her own.

Complication #4
All of this…and I mean all of it… is running  through your head at 5:00 A.M. When you have woken up feeling dreadful and need to make that decision… to go or stay home… in time to get up and create the work, and then send all the relevant e-mails or make the phone calls. Best case scenario… plan your sickness! No joke. “I feel like crap, but if I hold on until Thursday my classes will be in a place where I can be sick for two days and then I’ll still have the weekend to recover.” And then you stay at school the night before your sick day for an extra two hours to prepare the work for your classes and photocopy everything.

Complication #5
If you keep going to work sick your classes will be on track. But… you will be so bagged at the end of the day that you will fall into bed after supper. And for English teachers this is major….. you will now be behind with your marking! Whereas if you take a sick day you may be able to squeeze in a couple of hours of marking… and thus be ready for the onslaught of marking when you go back.
Oh…I’m getting stressed just writing about this!

But now… now…. dear readers, when I wake up at 5:00 A.M. feeling dreadful… why, I just sigh with relief and roll over… thinking… it could be worse… I could be sick AND still teaching!

I do know, of course, that teaching is not the only job where it’s hard to be sick. It’s just the only job I’ve had (and I have had other jobs) where being sick, and taking a sick day, is soooo darn complicated!

And for all of you out there who are still struggling to go into work when you really feel like crawling back under the duvet… I feel your pain.

Well, actually… I don’t… not anymore. Which is, of course, the point of this post.

So tell me… how complicated is it for YOU to take a sick day?


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3 thoughts on “The Joys of being Sick”

  1. Oh, I have to show my support here! You have totally nailed the 'sick when a teacher thing…' and, of course other professions would be in dire straits too…imagine Law proceedings. Anyway, here in AUS our Administration phone a replacement or pop a supervision note to someone on staff…on the rare occasions I have been away there's always all sorts of shenanigans to return to. My pet hate is when it seems like none of the work has been done, and you get a note saying the students were not on task….and you find a bundle of support sheets still in the mantilla folder…my other pet peeve is going to another's class and finding something like p. 45 teach Cartesian geometry…my lessons when away are always detailed enough to allow the students just to do the work quietly…LOL
    Can you see I love this topic!!?

    1. Ah…someone who knows whereof I speak! My favourite experience taking over someone else's class was the day I had to do an "on-call" in Phys. Ed. Of course I found out when I arrived at work…in my skirt and high heels! The work left by the other teacher was simply "We are in the basket ball unit. Play 'King Court'" or something like that. Say what??!! Good thing the kids knew what they were doing!

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