About Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, at http://jenniferwolfe.net, and grab a free copy of "8 Tips For A Successful School Year" while you're there.

I am not a very good sick person.  I don’t like stuffing my pockets full of Kleenex, dosing up on Sudafed, and trying to make it through my day.  But I don’t like the alternative, either.  Hunkering down in the house with a stack of unread newspapers, that novel I’ve been meaning to finish since last summer, lotion-infused tissues, remote control, and satellite TV isn’t what I’d exactly call my dream day off.

When teachers get sick, it's harder to stay at home than it is to go to school. Click To Tweet

When a teacher is sick, there’s still work to do.  Teaching isn’t the kind of job a person just doesn’t show up for.  Those kids don’t sit quietly and study when the adult decides they can’t make it to work that day. The substitute doesn’t just show up and create a fantastic lesson plan guaranteed to make them forget all about me.  Sad to say, when I get sick it just gets harder.  I’m stuck with what’s the better of two evils: trying to communicate intelligently to my students between blows of the nose, or trudging down to school in the dark to write step by step plans that anyone walking in off the street could present for four different classes?  Not an easy one.


But this week, I had no choice.  I was down for the count, and hunkering under the covers was my only option.  So I did what most teachers do-teach one day, write sub plans, stay home, teach the next, write sub plans, and stay home. And what do you think happens? Teachers like me spend more time being sick because they never feel like they can take the time to get better.

It’s not that I think I’m irreplaceable.  Hardly.   I know there are many young people out there looking for work, eager to earn a paycheck.  But in my experience, not many of them are substitute teachers.  Last year my students reported that one of my subs whipped out grapefruit and proceeded to eat her breakfast at my desk during class.  Another one surfed cars.com on my computer.  And still, another decided to ditch the lesson plans I’d prepared for my English class and instead gave a drawing lesson and then proceeded to decorate my classroom with student artwork. When teachers get sick, we just assume that the person called in to ‘replace’ us is really just a warm body. I write detailed lesson plans, designed to be a ‘no brainer’. They’re always something the students have been trained to do and nothing that requires much explanation. I’ve learned the hard way.

And when teachers get sick, the sub doesn’t always tell the real truth – that is, if they tell us anything at all. I’ve learned that subs like to make it seem like everything was awesome so that they don’t get a bad review – so the cycle of misbehavior and lack of real work getting done just perpetuates.

Now don’t get me wrong there are some subs out there who do an awesome job.  They really do a substitute for the teacher.  They take their job seriously, follow the lesson plans, organize the papers, and spend time helping students.  The problem is that these subs are the ones everyone wants, and when I’m requesting someone at the last minute those stars are not who are available to show up in my classroom.

So, I’m not a very good sick person.  Or maybe I’m just not very good at letting go.  I remember being in junior high-kids have no mercy on the substitute.  It really is one of the toughest jobs out there. But so is teaching – especially when you’re sick.

But in the big picture, what difference does a day of chaos here and there really make?  Maybe I should just settle in, drink my herbal tea, catch up on the news, and get lost in HGTV and rest.  Maybe I’ll even get lucky when I go back to work, and those students will be glad to see me.  I know I’ll be glad to see them.

Because the truth is, teachers, don’t make very good sick people.


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