Should I Go To Work If I'm Unwell?
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
As I sit here in bed feeling sorry for myself for being unwell, I've reflected on the inner turmoil I went through in making the decision to not teach today.
It's nearly been two years since I was diagnosed with Diverticular Disease. My last flare up was at the beginning of the year so I've had a good run this time around (which frustrates me as I thought I'd finally got it under control!)
The pain of a flare up is excruciating at times, so much so that I can't do normal daily things; walking to the toilet is a struggle! So there I was, in absolute agony, crying in frustration from this happening again, from the hunger I felt (it's advised to stop eating for 24-48 hours to let your digestive system calm down) and from the agonizing pain in my lower left abdomen.
And yet, I was trying to tell myself that I would be ok to go into work. What the fuck is that all about?! I physically can't move without being in pain and there I was thinking I could be a performing monkey to thirty year 2 children for six hours. 😳
"I'll just take some painkillers and I'll be ok."
"I can grin and bear it, I'll just get through the day and rest when I get home."
"I'll just teach sitting down."
"I have to go into work, the school will be pissed off with me if I call in sick."
"I really don't want to let the class down by not being in school today."
"I really need the money, so I have to go in."
Those were some of the thoughts that came up for me when I knew deep down that I cannot go into work feeling like this. What do you tell yourself to justify going into work when you're ill?
"I'll be ok, it's only a cold."
"It's just a headache, I'll be fine." (When in fact it's a blinding migraine!)
"I'll get through this week and then I can rest at the weekend."
"I don't want to leave that work for supply to do."
Last year, 49% of educational professionals felt compelled to go to work when they were unwell and 93% would go into work all, most or some of the time (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019). This is known as presenteeism. 👇
So why do we keep pushing ourselves to keep going even though our mind and/or our body is telling us to stop and rest?
Is it because we fear what people will say if we have time off?
Is it because everyone else does it so we think we need to do it as well?
Is it because we want to prove our worth by showing up even though we're on deaths door?
Is it because we think supply won't meet our expectations of work set, therefore it's just easier for us to go in and do it?
Is it because we don't want to appear weak?
Is it because we love our job so much that we still want to go in despite being so ill?
Is it because we don't want to inconvenience other people by being off sick?
I know for myself it was a combination of worrying that I'd piss the school off, worrying that I'd let the class down and worrying about my finances - first world problems of a supply teacher!
We have this culture in Education to "keep soldiering on", to keep pushing through to the weekend or to the next holiday despite of how ill we feel. And it's slowly killing us off! We have to ❗STOP❗ this culture of "soldiering on"!
Your health is your first priority! No one will think any more or any less of you for going into work when you are sick. You may think you're doing the right thing by going in and being there for your class, but will your students be getting the very best learning experience from you?
The next time you realise you're "soldiering on" and pushing yourself to keep going, I want you to ask yourself these questions like I did this morning:
Who am I doing this for? Is it for your headteacher? Is it for your team? Is it for you?
Why am I pushing myself to go into work when I don't feel well? Is it to prove your self-worth? Is it because you struggle to let go of being in control of your pupils learning?
What impact will this have on my health if I keep going into work when I'm unwell?
What decision are you making inside of yourself right now?
Because now you've read this, you'll recognise it the next time it happens. It might not be straight away but you'll soon be aware of it - probably after going into work, trying to teach a class of 30 children who are hyped up from being outside in the wind and they can't hear you because you're losing your voice, and all you want to do is curl up in bed with a lemsip and a family size box of balsam tissues! 🤧
You're a person first and a teacher second. Look after YOU!