More Rural Schools Journal: The Sick Day

About Dan McConnell

Husband, father, and teacher. Hoping to earn full redemption through the written word and shaping the dangerous young minds of tomorrow.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, I decide to take a sick day.

I just called for a sub to cover my duties tomorrow. I’m taking a “sick day.”

My youngest, (of the three girls I have written so much about in the past) didn’t really want to go to school this morning, was clearly feeling not-right (just not bad enough for me to let her stay home). She made it through the day only to end up with a fever of 104 by about 4PM and collapsed on the couch to sleep through dinner time.  So I went to call in a day to get a substitute teacher to cover me. Silly me, I lost the automated sub-service username and log-in code used for when dialing into the automated system. Man, it used to be so much easier (on the people calling in-not so much the sub caller or even the sub themselves).

But what to do?  My wife had no flexibility for taking the time for tomorrow. Sometimes she can do some rearranging-but there was no way this time. When one of my girls is sick, though-I have to do something!

Thursday, but later: will the “sick day” happen?

Turns out that I remembered an old email from another district employee telling about a few days where she would be monitoring the call-in system and covering for the person who usually handles that. So I sent her a quick text to see if she could help me out. In the end it all worked out and I got someone to be me.  And I got my username and log-in info now so it won’t be such a hassle should I need to do this again.

Also, guess who that substitute is going to be: one of the women in the family that heads the little Baptist church in the village; a church that students are released to for religious education on Thursday afternoons. No, I do not teach in a religious school-but I teach in a pretty religious little town. Anyways, she’s at the church, she does summer bible school, AND she drives bus when needed. On field trips, on regular daily routes… And you could never know a more gracious, caring, smiling, and perpetually positive person. She and her family are fixtures in our community.

And she’s me tomorrow! You don’t know the load it takes off a teacher’s mind when they find out that a reliable person and personality will be there in their absence to guide the students through the “have-to” , “do if you want”,  and the “if nothing seems to be working, then do this.”  Most teachers I know don’t really like being out, but guess what: life happens to teachers too. They get sick, they have bank business and lawyer business, they have families and parents and spouses and children and pets and cars…and all those things get sick too and taking care of them means taking some time off. Not only are these dedicated, professional teachers wrapped up in all the little, young, and grown up lives around them every day; not only are they in that room and in that building with hundreds of flu carriers and coughing, runny noses; not only do they become privy to the heart-breaking problems and respiratory-wrecking germs in that emotional and biological Petri dish called “school”… These teachers need a day off once in a while, and they earn it. Believe me. They are super, and I don’t mean the dramatized charter-promotional movie kind. I mean the real, quietly un-promoted, every-single day for long hours and many years, going above, beyond and outside the call of duty kind.

but guess what: life happens to teachers too. Click To Tweet

Again, they need a day off once in a while. This time I needed that day.

But like most teachers, I really don’t like being away from my students and colleagues, and at first I was only going to take a half day because my wife said she could get home and take over with our daughter. Then I found out that this particular sub would get called in, that she had bus duty and would be dropping kids off at school, taking the bus back to the bus garage, doing the shut-down/visual inspection stuff and then getting to school a little late. Not her fault at all, she does the job she’s given and does it well. But if I came in for an afternoon half-day, she would barely get in a couple hours in the school. Hardly worth the time, from her perspective, if a chance for her to put in a full day was to come up.

So I just took the full day. My little girl was so sad and feverish, and yes my wife could have pulled strings and made it home and I could have gone in…But I did the right thing. These benefit days exist out of respect for the fact that life happens, sick happens, even to teachers. And l have done the math to figure out that most teachers I know put in the hours beyond the school day, during the school year, to cover a summer vacation worth of school days and more. On top of that, the woman called in for me deserves to have her talents utilized beyond bus driving duty.

Friday, the sick day begins.

I’d gotten up early to get to school around 6:30 AM, driving the snowy roads about 20 minutes to leave some hand-written supplemental stuff, then had to turn around and get back quickly to make sure my wife and other two girls could get out the door. Because I live in a rural area, and teach in a rural school with a fairly high level of poverty, there are resources and services available to our students at no cost to them. One is a physician’s assistant who has been wonderful, supportive, and understanding as our daughter (and our family) deals with the repercussions of PANDAS- a condition that virtually took my youngest daughter away from us quite suddenly and replaced her with a totally different child. Thanks to the diligent research of my wife, this school-based professional, and a diagnosis and course of treatment most traditional doctors still don’t accept-my daughter is much better. Still not entirely herself, but I can be thankful for how lucky we are. The kind of sick other kids become with PANDAS is alarming, dangerous, even deadly.

But anyway, I return to school to bring my girl in a little after the start of the school day to minimize her contact with others and go straight to the nurse’s office for some poking, prodding, a throat swab (*gag*)… and the whole time I’m thinking “I’m so grateful my kids will get a good substitute who will get value out of the materials I left.”

Later Friday, the sick day is almost over.

My wife actually finishes her Fridays in the same school our kids go to and I teach in, so when she came home she shared some news. My substitute was shifted to cover another spot. She was prepared to have my duties, and came dressed to teach. Instead, she was shifted to cover someone else, likely an aide or assistant spot, and she wasn’t prepared to cover an outdoor recess. When my wife caught her in the hallway and asked how it was to be me (trust me, it’s a daily struggle but I manage to get by) she found out.

When my wife told me, I was bothered on a few levels:

1) Yes, my family needs me and I don’t regret for a moment taking a sick day that I have been a part of negotiating for (as union president and as VP), that I have earned, that I deserve…But uncertainty regarding “What will happen if I’m away?”, and sometimes what the supervisory consequences might be are reasons teachers are tentative to take time even when it’s needed. I know the insolent sheep in the education reform camp like to throw out stuff like “Other workers don’t get paid sick days,” and “Teachers get too much time off already,” and all-but suck it up, buttercup. There’s a reason why I can do what I do and you can’t-and if you really thought it was such a sweet deal-you might be doing it instead of posing as an authority on how it should be done and what kind of time off any teacher needs or deserves.

2) I was bothered that my students had missed the opportunity to benefit from a quality person there in my stead. I don’t know who was there or if they even had someone…they may have cancelled my services for the day. I push in to support a few classrooms and pull students out for more formal intervention services but know that in a pinch services are cancelled if coverage can’t be found. In my opinion, recess coverage is less important (not that recess isn’t important), but I don’t know the technicalities of being the administrator or the specifics on who else might have not been in that day. Maybe I was deemed more expendable or more easily done without considering who else wasn’t in.

3) I feel like I have a debt to the wonderful person who should have been me, and should have had the chance to work with kids in the way she love to instead of freezing her cheeks, her nose, her fingers…The only reason I really took the whole day was because of the comfort of knowing I could because it would be her covering for me.

Well, Monday is a staff conference day (no students), so if she’s in I might have to get her some hot chocolate.

Rural Schools - Sick Day

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About the Author:

Husband, father, and teacher. Hoping to earn full redemption through the written word and shaping the dangerous young minds of tomorrow.

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