Why do teachers rarely take sick days?

Last week I published a slightly tongue in cheek post about teacher sickness. Teachers so very rarely take days off and then spend the holidays recuperating from our aversion to calling in for cover.

My inspiration for the post was the cold I was vainly trying to fight off. I’ve been sick since then and it wasn’t until today when I lost my voice completely that I had to admit defeat and schedule a sick day off.

And I’m struck by my use of language.

Taking a sick day shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of failure.

Why is it that teachers will send sick kids home and lecture colleagues about the dangers of teaching while ill but when it comes to taking care of themselves?

Needs improvement.

Having a day off as a teacher seems so much more problematic than most other jobs but I’m sure it isn’t.

What I think I sound like when calling in sick…

The judgement of others

@sherrattsam points out that teachers are the masters at competing to be the busiest and most hard-working teacher ever.

Calling in sick is the very opposite of being busy.

You spend your time eating soup and sleeping.

How can you possibly be that super teacher if you call in sick at the first hint of a cold?

Usually teachers are inflicting their own insecurities onto themselves.

But why do do we do that?


Planning lessons when you are sick.

The cover quandary – an issue of control

Planning cover lessons always seems twice as difficult and definitely takes twice as long  as planning a lesson I teach.

Moreover there’s no guarantee that my marvellous plans will actually be followed the way I intended.

When there’s a big school event about to happen or exams around the corner it can be easy to cast yourself in the role of superhero teacher.

What teachers often forget is that superheroes usually have sidekicks.

Where would Batman be without Robin?

Han Solo wouldn’t have been cool without Chewbacca.

The problem is that we expect our cover teachers to be a Mini-me and get disappointed when they aren’t…

When you cast yourself as a superhero to your class, calling in sick seems so human.

‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ 

While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax in physical wellbeing.

Maybe the person who has the problem here is me.

I need to let go.

Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? As long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy.

Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? As long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem.

Did the reliever follow my plans exactly?

Probably not but then I frequently deviate from plans when I notice they aren’t working.

As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all fine.

And perhaps the learning that day might be tolerance of different ways of doing things and a new found appreciation of for the everyday interactions you have with the people in your life.

I’ll ponder that in bed tomorrow…

3 thoughts on “Why do teachers rarely take sick days?

Add yours

  1. I hate taking sick days! And it’s because the whole day is essentially lost. Not only do I have to make numerous calls to find somebody to open my classroom and another somebody (or somebodies) to cover my morning and afternoon duties, but I have to hope against all hope that the 1 (yes, only one) substitute teacher we have on the books who can sign and cue is available at a last minute notice. If she’s not, my kids are going to sit in a room doing worksheets with an adult who can’t communicate with them clearly and therefore can’t explain any aspect of the work.

    Even assuming that wasn’t an issue, sometimes it just feels easier to go in myself as opposed to having to make all those calls to get the sub, get the duty coverage, etc. And all before 6 AM. Unless I’m running a very high fever or feeling so terrible I can’t even get out of bed and drive the commute, it’s often easier to just go in and take a “present sick day” as I’ve dubbed the days where I’m present but feeling ill and having my students do independent or group work, no lecture from me these days.


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