Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my current or previous schools. Any content provided is of my own opinion and not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
Coronavirus came knocking at my door. Then let itself in. Along with the illness came unexpected challenges with my health and two weeks of deep reflection.
In my experience as a teacher, each school I've worked at has slightly different expectations of cover plans for when teachers are out. However, I have yet to work in a school that just lets us be sick, and invest in self-care and recovery.
For the first few days, my body was in complete physical turmoil. I am in the early stages of rheumatism and the onset of the coronavirus kicked my autoimmunity into overdrive. Even before feeling sick or testing positive, I was waking in the night in incredible pain. I felt like someone was drilling my joints, my hands were completely stiff and my fingers wouldn't move. Then a sensation as if a cat were trying to scratch its way out of my lungs. Then the fever, cough, aches, congestion, etc.
And yet, my primary concern was making sure my lesson planning was done! I'd warm my hands with a mug of hot water and slip on compression gloves in order to draft plans - three to four pages every morning before 7am; outlining behaviour concerns followed by a full day of learning objectives, differentiation and transitions. Then the additional expectation of joining online meetings to support learning (because that's okay with covid 🥺). At some point in the late morning or early afternoon, I would start fighting the fever again. My bed would be calling me to sleep, yet I'd weigh up the pros and cons of starting tomorrow's plans right away or wait for the midnight insomnia.
We've blurred the lines so much with technology and mobile working that it's a bit hard to tell when we are just home and when we are working from home.
And then there was the emails! Oh my god, the emails! I started to wonder how I ever managed to deal with everything in my inbox, all the extra tasks being assigned to me via email AND teach, solve friendship tragedies, plan, mark, contact parents, attend meetings and resolve all the first grade size problems. How do we do it? When did this level of expectation become the norm for one human? There were countless moments during my covid time that I stared wide-eyed, with a dropped jaw and my computer screen. The teaching profession has grown into a beast which is consuming me. It is eating up my physical, mental and emotional health. And I am certain I am not the only teacher to experience this.
The teaching profession has grown into a beast that is consuming me.
One week into my sick leave, I had a virtual appointment with one of my doctors because I was growing concerned with the unchanging chest pain. During this meeting, it occurred to me that the expectations of me at work were not normal, or even legal. So I sent my sick note in and let my team and admin know, they should expect nothing from me for the next week. I merely shared a weekly overview of lessons for planning. THE END! I received an apology, a few "hell ya" messages and some excuses. Then I rested. Like, really rested and took care of myself. And I cannot understand why I hadn't done that in the beginning.
A drastic change is needed. I want to be the revolutionary (at least at my own school) that drives this change to treat teachers like humans and to give us the mental and physical space to care for ourselves. I realized that the chaos and lack of organization regarding sick time for teachers (at least at my own school) is not my fault. By carrying that extra responsibility and working more than I need to (or even should), I make the dysfunctional functional at my own expense.
It is high time that administrators (and society at large) take care of their teachers. Here's some ways I've thought of to advocate for ourselves and fellow teachers:
Set hard, clear boundaries and stick to them - There are times when I actually want to work after hours. I love, love, love designing slides and coming up with inquiry activities, but set my limits and notice when it's out of love and when it starts feeling like an obligation.
Plan collaboratively - It is much easier for us as teachers to manage cover when teams are on the same page. It is easier said than done AND works best when it is part of a school's culture but nonetheless can be done within any willing team.
Respect the sick days of other teachers - There's at least one at every school... the person who really takes advantage. I have one, too. Regardless, respect the boundaries and don't message if possible. When I insisted on taking my sick time for real, my teacher friends supported those boundaries... they wouldn't give me any of the gossip from school in the evenings! I missed it, but it truly helped me not to be in "work" mode.
Policy - Be familiar with your school's sick policy before falling ill. My colleagues and I have become adept to doing what has always been done or what the current admin asks for. However, it is my responsibility to know the rules in order to set healthy boundaries.
Be proactive - With the never ending emails, I can see the need for an emergency information folder for cover teachers. I've put one together with all the basics and here it is to share with you! Totally and absolutely FREE, in PDF (for printing or using in Goodnotes) or Google Slides for editing digitally.
This FREE resource pack includes all the necessary information for a cover teacher, simply update the last pages to reflect the day(s) you will be out of class. The substitute teacher will be grateful (especially if it comes with chocolate or a similar token of kindness)!
Get your cover plan packet here in my free resource library! It comes as an editable Google Slides file, but you can save it as a PDF and print if you wish. As with all of the products I've made and shared, I ask that you respect my work by not copying or reselling any part of it.
If we have a planned day away from our classrooms, that is something we can surely prepare for. This is definitely not to burden our fellow teachers with. But when we are sick, we are sick!
It's absolutely necessary to pretend to be Viola Swamp when you come back to reports of your students taking full advantage of your absence!
Did they really think they were going to get away with it? If they did, they were so WRONG!
Regardless of how the children behave and how much you will miss while out sick, remember... Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others (the best self care tip for teachers).
With warm wishes of health and wellness,
PS. Did you know that you can get an absolutely FREE teaching resource from me each month? It's true! Sign up for my monthly newsletter below and get something unique, creative and beautiful for your classroom 🥰