There are lots of scenarios that can play out when a teacher is feeling under the weather and trying to decide whether to take one of their teacher sick days. Maybe you wake up not feeling particularly great, but don't think you're sick enough to stay home. At first, you think you can probably tough it out, but by mid-morning you know you made a mistake. Finding a sub at this point is almost impossible. Is there a way to get through the day?
Asking for Help When You're at School
The best advice is: Don't go through it alone. If you're at school and not feeling well, see your school nurse as soon as you can. She can take your temperature and let you know if there's anything going around. She may also be able to give you an over-the-counter drug if you have a headache or other aches and pains.
Next, let the school secretary know that you're not feeling well and you plan on leaving right after the students are dismissed. Talking to the secretary serves three purposes: She may be able to find teachers to cover your classes; she can alert the principal to your situation; and she has a heads-up that you may need a sub for the next day.
Further reading: Teacher Burnout
If you have no alternative but to finish out the rest of the day, don't make your classes dependent on direct instruction. Abandon any plans to introduce a new unit or concept when you're not at your best. Teachers who don't feel well should focus on low-impact, student-driven work that requires less direct supervision. For example, have your students share their views on a relevant topic while you monitor their discussion.
Feeling Better but Staying Home
You finally make it through the day, head home, and go to bed. You're feeling better the next day, but you still aren't at 100 percent. You may want to consider staying home so you don't risk a replay of the previous day. Teachers are good about covering for colleagues in an emergency, but two days in a row of the same situation may be asking a little too much.
Of course, if you stay home and end up feeling fine, you may be tempted to use the day to accomplish some tasks you've been putting off. But any teacher who's had this experience can just about guarantee that if you go grocery shopping, get your hair cut, or stop at the wine store, you'll run into a parent or a former student and have to explain why you're not in school. It's better to stay home and rest or get caught up on tasks around the house.
Dealing with Being Out of Sick Days
One of the toughest scenarios is when you're definitely not feeling well enough to teach, but you're out of sick days. No teachers I know can easily afford to take a day without pay. While many receive their allotted sick days at the beginning of the school year, others have to earn them monthly.
If you're not running a fever and aren't contagious, you can probably go to school and get through the day by taking a few precautions. Dress comfortably. Drink plenty of liquids. Again, don't start a new unit of study; just plan a quiet day of reading, writing, and review with your students. Leave at the end of the school day.
If you are running a fever and are contagious, however, your colleagues will not appreciate your coming to school and spreading whatever you have. Unfortunately, you may have to take the financial hit.
Preparing for a Short- or Long-Term Absence
In most schools, teachers are expected to have lesson plans ready to cover one to three days of teacher absence. By nature, these are generic because no one knows when they're going to be sick, so it's not possible to plan a lesson around what you're currently doing in class.
Still, teachers can make a substitute's day a lot easier by planning lessons that anyone can teach and kids don't mind doing. Having plans on file means you'll have fewer behavior problems to deal with when you return to class.
But what if you have to take a more long-term absence for health reasons? If it's planned, tell your students. You don't have to share personal details, but letting them know you'll be out for a while will help them prepare. If you know who your sub will be, maybe they can spend a couple of days with you and your students before you leave to make the transition easier.
Further reading: RX for Success
An unexpected extended absence is more difficult on everyone, of course, but often colleagues will pitch in to help out the sub or even cover classes.
Staying healthy is key, but with a job that requires us to help and care for others, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Be preventative, teach your students good health habits in the classroom, and take your teacher sick days as needed. If you leave good plans for your sub, your students will have a productive day while you rest. We hope you'll be back to teaching in no time!