Sick and tired

This is a companion to my last post about classroom maintenence. In this post, I want to segue from maintaining our physical environment, to maintaining our health.  Crafting a plan to manage illness for both yourself and your students can improve classroom performance.

As I mentioned in the last post, I often swab down the desks with Clorox wipes. I am especially likely to do this during cold and flu season. One of my students recently asked me if I am a germophobe. The truth is, not in the least, when I am in my own home or garden or kitchen or what have you. However, if you teach five to seven classes a semester, packed with 30 to 50 students, and you see them all three times a week, it is prudent to take precautions. I’ve been pleased to see that, at least one school where I teach, tissues and hand sanitizer in large sizes have been placed prominently on my desk. I also recommend, per the CDC, ‘being vigilant about cleaning and disinfecting classroom materials’ and using a ‘EPA registered household disinfectant spray’ ( like Lysol.

One of the worst illnesses I have contracted in recent memory occurred when a student walked up right up to me, coughed, and then hoarsely whispered, “my throat is sore, I think I may have strep.” While I sent them right home, the damage was done, I had officially contracted strep and was eating jello for the next two weeks!  If a student is feeling unwell, my policy is to send them home. It is a judgment call, but if you can tell from the front of the classroom, that they are grey-faced and bleary eyed, don’t wait for them to decide. Send them home.

It is one of the many ironies of our profession that half the class can barely manage to show up, while the other half drag themselves in come hell or high water. I’ve had students show up with bandaged heads, while others are calling in sick for the equivalent of a hangnail.  It is ultimately up to them, but most students are relieved by the reminder that they can get notes from a friend (or online) and that you can give them a makeup exam (again, I recommend online, but that is another post).

As we head into the last lap of the Spring semester, it is important to remind them to manage their stress and health during finals. Basic advice, like getting enough sleep, taking a deep breath now and then, and eating right, can help them finish the semester without collapsing.  The same goes for us; keeping your body and mind healthy can ward off depression and burnout, and keep us at the top of our teaching game.

A simple exercise is just to relax your jaw, you don’t even have to look weird while doing it. Keeping your mouth closed, just drop your jaw and let your tongue ‘float’ up to the roof of your mouth. I’ll bet when you do this, you didn’t even know how much tension you were carrying around in your face. Some other reputable ideas for stress relief can be found here (

How about your own state of wellbeing? If you are sick, you should not agonize over the decision, call in and stay home. By making this a standing policy, you have eliminated the stress of making the decision over and over again.  What does ‘sick’ mean, however? Many times, if we are already stressed and burned out, we want to ‘read’ a cold as ‘the flu’.  Again, it is a judgment call, but if an OTC cold medication and a cup of hot tea can set you right, you should probably go in. You can’t prevent people from catching colds, and as long as you wash your hands and keep your distance, you should be guilt free.  Anything that involves a fever, stomach upset, or muscle weakness should have you in bed, however. 

If you can avoid cancelling class, by having a colleague show a movie or administer a test, do it. It is a fine line, between taking care of yourself and losing the momentum of a course.  Not showing up can sometimes feel like a breach of trust between your students and yourself, and it can result not only in lost time for lectures and activities, but the problem is compounded by the confusion and explanations necessitated by your return. Know your campus, if your sick notice is likely to get lost in the shuffle, is there someone else you can call in a pinch? At least to have them put a note on the door? If there is such a trusted ally, keep their office number on speed dial.

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