Things I wish I'd known

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Sue Cowley on how not to be a martyr when you are feeling ill

Schools, like hospitals, are a hotbed of germs and superbugs. Teachers spend their working lives in close proximity to large numbers of children, so it's hardly surprising that we regularly fall sick. Newly qualified teachers are particularly vulnerable, as they haven't had time to build up the high-powered immune systems most teachers develop over the years.

There is a tendency for teachers to be martyrs, and to keep going until they collapse. As an NQT, you may feel under pressure to be in constant control of your class, and consequently a need to turn up at work even when you are at death's door. You could think there is so much work to get through that you simply cannot afford to take any time off. You may also find yourself feeling guilty, worrying how it will look to your colleagues if you take sick leave after only a few weeks at your new school.

Fight these feelings, if not for your own sake then for that of the other staff and students. If you are sick, take a few days off, rather than risk passing on your germs. Contrary to what you might like to believe, you are not irreplaceable, your pupils will be fine on their own for a while, and the school will not fall apart without you. But make sure you follow the correct procedures, phoning to let the relevant person know you'll be off, and setting good quality cover work. Then retire to bed with a hot drink and a magazine, and try to relax.

If you insist on going into school, at least make life easy for yourself.

If the class is on your side, aim for the sympathy vote. Tell them you're unwell, and ask them to be gentle with you. Take it easy in your lessons, setting work that doesn't require too much teacher input. Use student- focused work, such as group activities, individual presentations or whole-class tests. Another alternative for the dedicated is to come into school first thing in the morning, set some lessons, pick up a pile of marking, show colleagues how ill you are, then go home and catch up with work from your sickbed.

Of course, not every "sickness" requires you to take a day off work, but it's worth being prepared for all eventualities. Primary teachers may as well get a stock of nit shampoo in now. And those of you planning to enjoy the Christmas celebrations to the full would do well to invest in a packet of headache pills and some extra-strong mints.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact:

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