My love hate relationship with sick days

As I come down with a cold and my husband asks me if I should call in for a sick day and I tell him not today maybe tomorrow I really start to think about how I feel about sick days.  I think every teacher I’ve ever met has had a love/hate relationship with sick days especially when it comes to our own illness.  See I don’t hesitate to take a sick day when my son is sick I stay home with him to take care of him no problem, but if it’s me that’s sick I really avoid taking the day off if I possibly can.  I’ve been to school to teach with no voice, yes it’s possible to do that.  I felt fine that day other than I had no voice so I went to school and set up the overhead projector, hmm yep this was more than a few years ago lol.  On the overhead I wrote: I have no voice today.  Your directions for class are right here, if you have a question I will be writing the answer.  If your behavior is enough to make me try to talk you WILL be going to the office.  Know what?  I didn’t have to talk all day.  My kids were wonderful.  We had set routines and practiced them, they knew my expectations for their work and their behavior and they did exactly as they were supposed to.  That actually stands out as one of the best days of my career for the sheer cooperation.

Now this doesn’t mean I never take sick days, I do.  There are simply days where I am in no condition to be at school.  I learned in my first year of teaching to take being sick and taking care of myself very seriously.  I was teaching 6th grade communication arts in a large suburban middle school.  When we came back from winter break an emergency staff meeting was called.  One of our eighth grade teachers had had a cold before break and being a typical teacher (from my experience at least) she put her classroom before her health.  Over break it developed into pneumonia and she ended up in the hospital, by the time we got back from break she was in a coma.  A few days later we were called to another emergency meeting and told she was brain dead and they would be removing her from life support that day.  Counselors were in our building with students and staff as well as in the high school our students moved on to.  It was a major warning to all teachers, remember to take care of yourself!  Don’t overlook what you think is a mere cold, if it persists get yourself to a doctor pronto! It’s a reminder I give myself every time I get sick.

So what do I love about sick days?  Well when it’s my kiddo that’s sick I love that we get some quality together time.  That may sound strange but my child is one that as soon as meds are on board he’s back to his normal crazy self and being as I’m a teacher and have had kids in my classroom that should not be back at school I try to adhere to school policy fairly strictly.  The rule is temperature must be below 100 degrees for 24 hours that is not 24 hours from when we sent the child home with a fever, and not supposed to mean 24 hrs with no fever because they have been dosed with Tylenol or Advil.  So there are days where he still had a fever at the end of the previous day and though he wakes up without one we stay home because we are supposed to.  I treasure those times.  I love when I know I have a great sub lined up that will take care of my students as if they were the sub’s own kids, then I can relax in bed or on the couch and just concentrate on getting better.

What do I hate about sick days?  The same thing most teachers hate, the preparations.  Invariably my son starts getting sick in the middle of the night, or I do, this means I have to get up early to contact my administrators and type up lesson plans.  I do have written plans on my desk but the ones I write for me are never as detailed as those I write for a sub.  So at 6 am I’m sitting at the computer half asleep because I’ve been up all night the sick kiddo or feeling utterly lousy myself and I’m trying desperately to make my brain work well enough to come up with my schedule for the day, this is much tougher now as a specials “teacher” than as a classroom teacher as I have a different schedule every day.  Fortunately I have gotten into the habit of typing up basic plans at the beginning of each year so all I have to do is fill in the blanks.  When I write sub plans I write them as if the person reading has never been in my room or any other classroom.  I don’t want the sub to feel that I think they are incapable of figuring things out but I leave nothing to chance as I’ve had experiences where I didn’t do this and what I wanted to get done while I was out didn’t.  For that matter I’ve had times where I left explicit plans and still what I wanted to happen that day didn’t because the sub simply didn’t choose to follow my plans and those are just one day subs.  My maternity leave sub was a whole other story, I’ll save that for another post.

Some other things:

Love – subs that leave detailed notes to tell me what happened, who was sick, who was wonderful, who was not

Hate – coming back to nothing, not even the plans I left with checkmarks to indicate things were done, then I have to ask my students what they did and they don’t always remember or I get conflicting stories

Love – subs that are kind enough to grade papers for me especially since I never ask them to

Hate – the pile of papers left on the desk to grade even though I didn’t ask the sub to grade them, but I really don’t like coming back to work feeling like I’m days behind when I walk in the door

Love – subs that follow my plans exactly as I ask them too or leave me an explanation as to why, such as a surprise drill that took up class time, a surprise assembly, the kids just didn’t understand what they were supposed to do, etc

Hate – subs that don’t follow the plans and give me no reasons, I remember one time I specifically noted in the plans that students were to work in their seats and no one should be back on the floor in the reading area, I came back the next day to a reading area that was a disaster with students telling me they got to read on the floor.  UGH  If i left you a don’t do this, there was a reason for this please follow my instructions don’t just assume I’m being mean.

Love – knowing who my sub is ahead of time, being able to pick my sub, or being able to talk to them ahead of time to be sure they understand the plans

Hate – having a sub who is just doing it for the money, former or aspiring teachers are not like this they tend to do a really good job, then there are those just trying to pay their bills, while I understand the need to do this subbing is not the position for you

So fellow teachers what about you anything I missed that you love or hate about sick days?  or just prepping for a sub in general?



  1. We share several of the same loves and hates for sick days. I too have taught without a voice. I even had to use a program on the computer that would read the spelling words aloud for their test that day. I also leave very detailed sub plans. I was a substitute for a year before I signed a contract. I would hate going into classrooms with only assignments written down and absolutely no instructions. I always assume the individual has never taught at the school before. My sub plans are usually about four typed pages long. One day I had a substitute because I was in a training at the school, and when I walked by the room during my planning period this individual had his feet up on my desk and was sound asleep. The kids told me they really didn’t do anything all day. Lovely. I really treasure a substitute who takes the job seriously.

    • Oh that sub would have had me so mad! I had a sub, who also happened to be a parent in our building) that NEVER followed my sub plans. I finally had to go into my principal’s office and tell him I never wanted her to sub for me again as she never followed plans which left me falling behind more and more with each time, I happened to be part of an ongoing conference that year and had to be out about once a month for that, not to mention any sick days. It was just so infuriating.

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