I'm sick and tired

Craig Ennew

After a tough few weeks of term, hemmed in by deadlines, belligerent colleagues and indifferent pupils, you realise that you are feeling distinctly peaky.

In the wee small hours, you ease off the covers and walk over to the medicine cabinet. You glance back at the huddled shape under the covers and tentatively pull the light cord. It comes off in your hand; the room is dazzled by fluorescence.

You take out the ibuprofen packet and, with a thunderous crash, the contents of the cupboard spills forth. Groping on the floor, you retrieve the foil packet. Empty. You crawl over to the bed and attempt to gently shake the shape awake. The covers are thrown down and you find yourself grabbing the top of your other half's head, her face puce with rage.

"For God's sake, what?" she snaps.

"Just after the painkillers," you reply. "Do we know where they are?"

"Evidently we don't know where they are," she says. "And why are you whispering? The whole sodding street is awake now."

Florence Nightingale is alive, well and living in the South of England.

So, you are decidedly under the weather and faced with the age-old teacher dilemma: stick at it or take time off?

Option one: keep calm and soldier on. There you are in the middle of the staffroom, hacking away. "My God," says a colleague, "you sound awful. You should be at home." (And not breathing all over her.) But you limp on, a paragon of self-pity. Only when you have spluttered to the end of term do you collapse.

Option two: capitulate to the germs. According to Department for Education figures, 56 per cent of English state school teachers took sick leave during 2010-11, with the average teacher chalking up eight days overall.

"At a time when so many hard workers in private business are losing their jobs," crowed one Daily Mail comment writer, "aren't parents and taxpayers entitled to expect a little more stoicism?"

Most of us can articulate just one response to that - in the medium of mime. Besides, having made the decision that you are ill, you have the unenviable task of phoning in sick.

Teacher (assuming weak voice): "Just calling to say I'm not feeling well - cough - and won't be in." Pause for sympathetic noises.

The other end: "Hang on." A hand goes over the receiver and muffled words are spoken. Can "skiving bastard" be discerned? The hand lifts from the receiver. "How long?"

You think about this, while making a mental note of adding GP to your CV, before saying a time period that is patently too short.

That job over, you settle down to set cover work on the sofa in your dressing gown, with the obligatory comfort breakfast: boiled egg and Marmite soldiers.

Restlessness grips. Guilt seeps in. You should be at work. You should do something useful. Perhaps you should work on those Year 12 practice papers? You sigh and flick through Freeview. Murder She Wrote it is.

But the repercussions of time off don't end with the guilt - there is the news that, in your absence, deadlines for reports, marking controlled assessments and general form-filling have all slipped disastrously.

It is enough to make even a stoical Daily Mail writer feel like taking a sickie.

Craig Ennew teaches English at a secondary in the South of England.

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Craig Ennew

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