The dark side of the whiteboard - Sick day? Snot on their watch

5th November 2010 at 00:00

I'm not well. My tongue feels like Fuzzy Felt and my mouth tastes like Chappie. Judging by the sweat stains on my mattress, I'm also running a fever. The problem is that it's not my turn to be ill. There is a strict rota for sick days and, thanks to my meltdown earlier this year, my next one isn't due until spring 2011. I cough up something that looks like the liquid jelly from a pork pie crust. Nice. I check out the mirror: bloodshot eyes, dark circles, anaemic skin. The usual mid-term teacher's face. More coughing; more Melton Mowbray pie filling. I glug some expectorant and reach for my planner. My day starts with a double free. No way. I grab a shower and a box of ibuprofen and head off to school.

You have to be pretty resilient to throw a sickie if you're a teacher. For a start, you have to convince the cover manager that you are dying. Never get your partner to ring in - that is a dead giveaway. Far better to spend 10 minutes mastering Stanislavski techniques before croaking your excuses over the phone. Anything lame like "I'm feeling a bit poorly" won't satisfy her puerile fascination for detail. To be credible, go dirty: the more scatological you are, the less likely she is to cross-examine. Haemorrhoids, anal seepage and diarrhoea are pretty safe bets, followed by anything to do with menstruation or modified by the prefix "prolapsed". Munchausen's syndrome is always a winner when you're working with kids.

The downside is that your illnesses are being logged by a bored local authority admin clerk whose conditions of employment do not include signing the Hippocratic oath. She gleefully forwards all the interesting stuff to Dr Pixie McKenna, who will turn up outside your three-bed semi with a reassuring smile, some latex gloves and a branded juggernaut containing the world's kinkiest camera crew.

Teachers hate other teachers being ill. We begin by feigning sympathy, but we are overcome by compassion fatigue after 24 hours of covering a colleague's classes. When your head of department drops by with a dozen spray carnations and a chintzy "get well" card signed from your colleagues, what they are really saying is: "get back into school or die". They don't want you to suffer any long, drawn-out illnesses; they want to give your job to an alpha male with bulging biceps and rippling pecs who direct debits half his salary to the gym. We recently interviewed for a new English teacher. The "meet the rest of the department" session was a horse fair; we were checking out candidates' teeth, skin and shiny hair, not their innovative approaches to teaching.

My department is a callous lot when it comes to absences. A couple of years back, we employed an NQT. He had the body of a feeble academic and the heart and stomach of a hypochondriac. He rang in more absences in his first term than the whole of Year 9. Towards the end of his first year, he was hit by a string of family bereavements. Were we supportive? Were we bollocks. To lose one parent may have been misfortune, but to lose two was simply careless. He never came back. We considered recruiting for his replacement in Men's Health magazine, but settled for an advert in The TES instead. We got lucky. His successor has the constitution (and sadly the IQ) of an ox. But the good news is that we are never on cover.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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