In which I make a classic teacher mistake

In which I make a classic teacher mistake

Semester 1 at Fancy International School is firmly in the books at this point. Looking back on it, things went very well. They actually went much better than I had any right to expect them to. Even though I expected the wheels to come off at some point, they never did. I suppose 15 years in education has some benefits when on-boarding in new schools.

Looking back on the semester, I only made one big mistake: I got sick in October. I get sick every once in a while, but not like this. This was brutal. It was like flipping a switch at the end of a Wednesday. I looked up, and I was suddenly light-headed and cold (here in a tropical rainforest—never a great sign). By the time I had walked the 10 minutes back to our condo, I had no remaining energy to do basically anything for the rest of the day. I was in bed by 7.

That’s not my fault, and it’s not my error. Here’s the error: I woke up on Thursday, crammed some NSAID’s into my body, and went back to work. This was a dumb move. Actually, it wasn’t a real problem on Thursday. I handled the day without too much of an issue, re-upping on pills halfway through the day. The real problem was when I attempted to do the same thing on Friday, and had to leave work by the middle of the first block. By the time I got to the doctor, I had a fever approaching 103 and steady abdominal...cramping.

This is the mistake, and among teachers it’s a classic. For a variety of reasons, we are generally loathe to miss class. So we make dumb decisions. We decide to push through illness, or we set the bar for staying home at a level only slightly below comatose. We want to do what’s best for our classes, but what we wind up doing in this particular realm of the job is counterproductive. Was I contagious when I went to work on Thursday or Friday? Hopefully not. Did I make things harder for the system by bailing out once the day started instead of just deciding to stay home when I woke up? Almost certainly. Was my instructional presence on Thursday and Friday so crucial to my teaching that it warranted exacerbating a health risk to myself and others? Absolutely not. Here’s a thing about school: The system was functioning before you ever got there, and it will continue to operate without you, whatever your role in it might be. I know this to be true, and I still screwed this one up.

It’s particularly galling in my specific case, as I have always considered myself to be among the most clear-headed about this type of thing. I’ve been out front as both a teacher-colleague and as an administrator-boss in telling other teachers to look after themselves in situations like this and to stay home. But when the first opportunity to live my personal illness credo presented itself upon starting the new job, I immediately forgot all of that in favor of doing the stupid, typical, thing that teachers do. And stupid is exactly what it is. Going to work when you are ill is not indicative of your dedication, or your professionalism, or any other “virtue” you think you possess as a teacher.

It’s just dumb. Don’t do it. Learn from my mistake.

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