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If you are a teacher, you know the dilemma. You wake up from a fitful night’s sleep to realize that yes, you have indeed come down with something. It catches you off-guard because you have been teaching for a quarter of a century, and you’ve already developed immunity to everything…cold, flu, COVID, pinkeye, headlice…you name it. It’s not going to infect you. You have an immune system of steel.

But this morning, you have a headache, a runny nose, and no voice, and when you stand up to go get in the shower anyway, every cell in your body is telling you to call in sick. Go back to bed. You need a day of rest. But then you think about what it would take to actually stay home.

You would have to write last-minute sub plans. Your class would lose a day of instruction because it’s too late to plan anything worthwhile, and the sub wouldn’t just be able to teach what you had planned that day. They would just have to play a movie. If a sub could be found. There’s such a sub shortage due to crappy pay for a job that most people can’t handle, so there would probably be no subs available. They would have to fill each class period with a different teacher who would be willing to cover the class during their prep. That means there would be five different subs in your room that day.

It’s not worth it, you decide. So you force yourself to get into the shower, put on some comfy clothes that could still pass as work attire, drink some orange juice, and you arm yourself with some ibuprofen and a few extra boxes of Kleenex and head to school. You make it through the day, and the kids are nice to you because they can tell that you’re sick. Even on your death bed, having you in the classroom was more productive for those students than having five different subs for the day. So you feel good about making it through the day, and you’re not too worried about your illness being contagious because it’s just a little laryngitis, and your husband isn’t sick, so it’s probably just allergy-based. No harm done.

I had this experience this week. I went to school on Thursday and Friday, sick, because it was much easier than making sub plans. I had just gone through the process of writing sub plans for a three-day planned absence, and there was no way I was going to tack two more days onto it.

My husband and I have a week up at a cabin in the woods that we inherited. It is the same week every year, and it’s right in the middle of the school year. We can’t take a week off from school, but we do take three days off, so we can enjoy a long weekend at the cabin, and so it won’t go to waste.

This week, we returned from the cabin, and I was coming down with something, but I powered through because I hate missing school, and the thought of making more sub plans was worse than just getting through the last two days of the week feeling sick.

If you’re not a teacher, you probably don’t realize the struggle. Here are some things I had to put in my plans for my three-day absence.

  1. This student speaks mostly Spanish. She carries her phone to use as a translator.
  2. This student speaks mainly Russian. She may have a hard time with some directions.
  3. At all costs…please do not mispronounce this student’s name. If you do, she will tell her mom, and her mom will email me. It’s spelled Swahilimaualele. It is pronounced “Sally”….got that? Sal (as in pal) – ee. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
  4. Do not speak to Bobby. He has anger issues and hates women, but he won’t call you an asshole if you just don’t speak to him.
  5. We have a bus evacuation drill at 2:45 on Tuesday.
  6. You have lunch duty on Wednesday during 7th grade lunch and Lunch Success on Thursday during 6th grade lunch in your room but only if there are students on the list (which you have no access to) so I will email you and let you know if you have Lunch Success or not. If you don’t have Lunch Success, you have lunch duty instead. Lunch Success is for students who are failing at being successful at lunch, so it is like lunch detention where they have to come eat lunch in your room and be silent. The students call it “Lunch Sucks Ass” but just ignore that.
  7. Wednesday is Early Release. We have a completely different schedule. Please follow that.
  8. I’ve also attached the procedures for sharpening pencils, using the restroom, going to the library, what to do if students finish work early, etcetera. In addition, I’ve attached procedures for fire drills, earthquake drills, lockdown drills, etcetera. Each one has a different sound. *If there is a drill scheduled, you will know about it. If the alarm goes off and you didn’t know it was coming, then it could be the real thing. Proceed with caution.

You might think I’m exaggerating about this, and I wish I were, but this is all in my sub plans in one way or another, and this doesn’t even cover the part about the lessons or all the other details I left out. Yes, it is much easier to be at school when you’re the teacher than to stay home. Situations like these make me appreciate what a difficult and important job it is that we do. It’s no wonder that when I get home at the end of the day, I am spent. I just want to talk to no one and relax for a few hours before I turn around and do it all over again the next day. Teaching does come with its rewards, and they are many and fulfilling. But if you know, you know. And I just wanted to say cheers to all the teachers out there every day, showing up even when you know you probably shouldn’t. And here’s hoping that things get better for future teachers out there. It’s a noble profession, and we need the good ones to keep showing up.