Today was punctuated by coughing fits and unplanned napping. It was a sick day to beat all sick days because I needed it so desperately. I’m glad I went to the doctor yesterday. I’m glad I got the antibiotics I needed. But most of all I’m glad I gave myself permission to call off.
The policy for sick days at my school is (somewhat understandably) strict, but places a lot of extra burden on the teacher. If you’re too sick to teach, you can call off and your classes will be cancelled. If you have to miss more than just one day, your classes will be covered for you. (We have a separate schedule for cover, which reminds me of the backup system at a job I had years ago.)
But missing that first day is a commitment because you’re expected to make up the missed class time. Yes, you get paid for the day you’re sick. No, no one else taught the classes. But the students are expected to get a certain number of “contact hours” each week, so you’re expected to find a time for you and all your students to get together to have that missed class.
This is what was hanging over my head for the past week as I dragged myself to work, feeling more sick than well, but pushing myself through the days so I could avoid this make-up time rule. Calling in sick this morning was momentous because I don’t know a single person in my group of colleague friends who has called off. So I’ll get to figure this out on my own.
I honestly don’t know how I’ll do it. I’m already teaching 20 hours a week and have meetings outside of classes, plus other administrative duties. And I have essays to mark right now too. And I have a life outside of work that includes commuting, tutoring, moving next week, cleaning, cooking, and other mundane but necessary tasks. Oh, and I should mention that I’m still sick, but slightly better than I was at the start of this whole event…
I also don’t know how I’ll schedule it with my students. Most of them already don’t come to class. (And Wednesday is a low attendance day anyway, which is what I consoled myself with this morning after calling off…) But I want them to come to class and I want to teach them. I really want to teach them.
So instead of viewing this as problematic, I’m trying to view it as an opportunity. I have to make up the time. It’s part of my job. Really, as annoying as it might be to rearrange my schedule for students who may or may not show up, I have to do it. So instead of being annoyed about it, I’m trying to see it as a chance to connect with them. I haven’t given up on them (and I most likely never will) and I want them to know that.
If I have to make up the class time outside of normal hours, then perhaps I can do it outside of normal class space too. I’m thinking we could meet at a coffee shop on campus (or at least perhaps a different, more comfortable classroom) and begin with some real conversation. Something more personal than our current setup. I’ll have a planned lesson–probably vocabulary or speaking skills relevant to our textbook topic or recent assignment–and we’ll take it from there.
Maybe they’ll like taking a break from the daily grind where I have to try to cover a ton of material and hope they get it the first time… Maybe we could make it a regular thing. (I have no idea!) Maybe they’ll appreciate their teacher being a real person with them. Maybe they’ll come to class more regularly. (I can only hope!)
I don’t know what’s possible yet, but I’ve reframed this sick day as I’ve watched the hours pass from behind the pages of a book. I’m feeling better now than I did 24 hours ago, and I think a lot of that is because of the time I took off, allowing myself to rest during the sick day (and not grade essays like I considered), and how I’m mentally approaching the make-up time. I don’t think I’ve ever been happy to take a sick day, but this is as close as I’m going to get.