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Pass out the sick bags

FRIDAY, March 31, 2000, was a significant day for me. For the first time in 17 years I failed to turn up for work for reasons of my own ill health. I've arrived at work and had to come home a handful of times, and I've been given time off for weddings, funerals, births and for my wife coming out of hospital but this was my first full day of sickness.

While I have some pride in that record there have been days when perhaps it would have been better that I had stayed in. Doubtless I have infected others by turning up coughing and sneezing ("Tell me who to breathe on," I say to colleagues, only partly in jest).

Anything else that is incapacitating has always cruelly waited until my free time to strike. I am sure I am not the only teacher to emerge from a frantic term only to find a longed-for holiday blighted by flu or a session driving the porcelain bus. I have a theory that involves stress chemicals boosting the immune system, but what does a physicist know about biology?

Now it is possible that there are people reading this who work or have worked beside me and are already beginning to bristle. "If he's never bloody ill, how come I've had six yuftis (please-takes to the uninitiated) for him in the past term?"

This is fair comment. I am an assistant pricipal teacher with responsibility for physics, so I go to subject specialist meetings. I have been involved with training primary teachers in 5-14 science and get to slope off to do that now and again, though this sort of thing is increasingly shifted into the Twilight Zone of after-school classes. Also, I am deputy ICT co-ordinator (a post with an acronym that sounds disturbingly close to "dick") and have had to miss a class or two when deputising. In other words, I'm dangerously close to pain-in-the-arse whiz-kid territory.

All these things are, or were, good for one's health, being less stressful than teaching even nice weans. I think that is changing. While Higher Still seemed like a good idea to me, I failed to anticipate the extra pressure it would put on teachers to "get kids through" unit tests and the like.

Missing Higher classes now induces queasiness and unease. It's probably a conspiracy to make us welcome the idea of losing a few days' holiday so that courses can be delivered without the disruption of teaching.

Right. Maybe while they're at it we could be allocated another five days when we can be ill without feeling guilty that somebody has to cover our classes.

Gregor Steele has a sore head and can't think of a silly end bit.

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