I felt fine when I woke up on Sunday morning. Well, maybe not 100%, but pretty good. We had a fun morning ahead, so I took something for my headache and got on with the day. By lunchtime, I knew the headache wasn’t going away. And I was starting to realize that my digestive system was also unhappy. Plus, I was exhausted despite a good night’s sleep. I was sick.
Before I could ease my aching body into a warm tub, I checked our public health site: none of my symptoms warranted a COVID test in a vaccinated adult. Phew. I’d gotten the flu shot the day before, and my symptoms *did* match reactions to that.
The day wore on. I didn’t get any better, and I didn’t get any work done. Sometime Sunday evening, through the haze of the headache and nausea, I recognized my dilemma: should I call in sick?
This was a more complicated decision than usual. This year, secondary teachers teach two two-and-a-half-hour classes every day for one week. The next week, we “only” teach one of those blocks, though to different students. On paper, this looks reasonable, but in reality, it’s exhausting. Planning lessons that are effective, engaging, and well-paced – and also accessible to students who can’t attend in person if they are sick or quarantining – and that work within the arc of a week (because 9 days later, few students remember exactly what we were doing), well, it’s a lot. Being in the classroom, on my feet, engaging students, making changes on the fly, making sure everyone is learning, for five hours: also a lot. Add in a few meetings – at least two per week – outside of class time and then, of course, the marking. That’s really a lot.
Taken altogether, this means that every weekend I need to work for at least five or six hours just to keep up. Is this a strain on my family? Yes. Is this a strain on me? Yes. Should I be doing something different, more efficient, more effective, more… I don’t know… better? Probably, but this is what I’ve got right now and, frankly, I’m too tired to choose anything else.
And now I was sick, so I’d lost most of my weekend planning and marking time. Pre-Covid, I could have waited to see how I felt Monday morning; there was a good chance I would feel fine and I hate missing classes. Plus, my grade 9 class does best with consistency, already hard to maintain with nine days between classes. Pre-Covid, I wouldn’t have worried that calling in sick first thing in the morning would mean that one of my colleagues would have to cover my class. They still would have covered my class, of course, but they wouldn’t have been so incredibly tired; their prep time wouldn’t have been so incredibly necessary. If I declared my absence Sunday night, the school could hire a supply teacher instead of further swamping someone who was already up to their eyeballs in muck. And then there’s the truth that pre-Covid, I wouldn’t have been facing down a week so busy that I already felt smothered; I would have been better able to spread out my work; I would have had more flexibility because I wouldn’t have been planning for huge swaths of time and not everything had to be pre-created and available online.
I was forswunk*, exhausted before I even began. Even the decision to take a sick day was overwhelming.
In the end, I took the day. I forced my muddled brain to re-write the lessons I had so that they would be accessible to a supply teacher, emailed all the right people, and fell, exhausted, into my bed. I did, indeed, feel a good bit better on Monday, though I needed a lot of extra sleep. And what did I do on my sick day? I worked.
Forswunk. Overworked. No idea why that word is obsolete.