About Sarah Sorge

A high school science teacher, Sarah Sorge has taught in private, charter, and public schools in grades 7-12. Her areas of interest include neuroscience, education, and problem-based science instruction. Recently, Sarah was awarded the distinction of New York State Master Teacher.

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I will admit that I have suffered far too many times with sickness in my years as a teacher.  It seemed that whenever a student crossed my path I would inevitably catch whatever the little darling was carrying.  Laughably, I can remember in my first year of teaching when I thought there was no possible way my body could survive the ravages of the colds, viruses, upper respiratory infections… the list went on an on. I’ve had students who were diagnosed with mononucleosis, pneumonia, the “stomach bug,” strep throat, common cold, influenza, and sometimes there’s no true diagnosis.  Sometimes a student is just feeling sick and run down.  Many parents, unfortunately, send their students to school when they are feeling unwell, and the reasons for this decision can be various from not wanting their child to miss course material and fall behind, to parents who cannot take time off from work to care for a sick child because their own paycheck will suffer.  What I would like to offer is some advice to teachers who are facing the onslaught of the worst cold and flu season on record, and perhaps some of these habits can be helpful year-round to keep healthy and in the classroom.  Obviously, seek the suggestions of a medical professional before altering your lifestyle, especially if you have risk factors for chronic diseases.

  • Get enough sleep I will admit I more often than not will not and cannot follow this advice, however the benefits of sleep are numerous.  While you sleep your body purges itself of toxins and does necessary repair work.  If you do not get enough sleep, chances are you are short-changing your body on its repair time.  We cannot expect a plumber, for example, to install a sink in 15 minutes and then complain when we lack the fixture.  Your body is the same way.  Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.  A nap after school can also help a little, too.
  • Disinfect your hands.  My students laugh when I put a new bottle of hand sanitizer next to the box of tissues, but at least they use it.  Teach your students that, when they cough or sneeze into their hands or after they blow their nose, they should use hand sanitizer in order to kill off bacterial germs.  You can get bottles of it in the dollar store and it will do the trick, but the visual reminder will help them remember to use it.  Also, disinfect your hands after handling student paperwork.  Think about it:  James suddenly sneezes while he is getting his materials out to hand in to you.  The droplets hit his paper and he innocently hands it in to you.  You now have his germs on your hands.  Yuck!  I keep a key chain bottle on my work keys to remind myself to use it.  After you use hand sanitizer several times it is a wise idea to wash your hands like normal and start fresh.  Furthermore, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.  If you make yourself aware of how often we touch our faces, it would surprise you.  Those are common locations to catch diseases because they are warm, moist areas: bacteria and viruses love those places!  Do not give them the chance.
  • Sanitize your desks.  While the maintenance staff in our school is fantastic at wiping our desks with cleaner, they could always use the extra help.  Use disinfectant sprays and wipes to assure yourself that you are killing off some of the germs your students are encountering.  Think about the other places student touch:  desks, tables, doorknobs, bookshelves, the community pen cup… and just give them a quick spray or wipe.  I usually try to do this before I leave for the day so the disinfectant chemicals have time to work undisturbed.
  • Eat right.  Aside from helping us with the added calories we can build up, eating correctly provides your body with the necessary nutrients to restore and repair itself.  Give it the fuel it deserves.
  • Take a multivitamin.  Most adults try to take a multivitamin to supplement the nutrients they miss in a normal day.  It would be good practice for you to start this if you have not already done so.  I also add in additional Vitamin A, C, D, and E, but that is a personal choice.  Vitamin C and zinc, I have found, tend to be effective in giving your immune system a boost and help you fight off a cold more easily.
  • Stay home if you are sick.  Yes, I know, we have all gone to work feeling under the weather because we have obligations that we cannot miss, we do not want to make substitute plans, we can survive it and then rest when we get home. I have said them all and none of them have made me a more effective teacher.  In fact, if I am too sick to think straight, I am too sick to teach effectively.  Therefore, if you have a fever, if you feel dead on your feet, just take the day and rest.  You more than likely need it.  Listen to your body.  If you go in sick you expose your students, colleagues, and yourself to other opportunistic infections or to reinfection if you have not disinfected your area.  The school will still be standing when you return, and your students will have missed you but will be much better off having a teacher at the top of his/her game.
  • Consider a humidifier in your classroom The mucous membranes of your nose are very delicate.  If they get dry due to winter air there is a good chance they could end up breaking open and bleeding.  A humidifier not only makes the room more comfortable, but it also keeps those mucous membranes moist and less likely to tear from dryness.  If tears occur you have another opening by which another bug can come through and make you sick.  Do not give the microbes a sporting chance at this!


While all of us will probably end up getting sick during the average school year, taking care of yourself is something you should make a priority.  Our students count on us, and they deserve us at the top of our game.  You are worth the extra effort and care, and since we are a self-sacrificing group of individuals that can ultimately be the hardest lesson we learn.

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