sick leave

I’ve been looking up information about paid sick time in my state, happy to note that most employees are eligible to earn and build up a bank of sick time. There’s a lot to like about Massachusetts. Still, though the law requires payment, many employees probably still feel reluctant to take time off, even for a sick kid.

As a public school teacher, my paid sick days are regulated differently. The reason I’m thinking of this law today is that I woke up with a massive headache and promptly puked my guts out. I suspect that my darling student shared his germs with me. When he arrived at school yesterday, it was clear something was wrong. “I was up all night throwing up,” he told me. Um, so why are you at school? “Mom said I had to come.”

Yeah, anger at Mom was my first reaction. Grabbing some spray cleaner and a rag to try to control the germs was my second. It took two trips down to the nurse and throwing up into the trash can before I could get him sent home. Not soon enough, apparently.

Though, as a privileged middle-class Mom with a husband and extended family to share the sick-care burdens, my first reaction is to think less of this Mom, it only takes a moment’s reflection to remember that not everyone is as lucky as I.

Massachusetts Law requires most employers (those with 11 or more employees) to offer paid sick time, I know that it’s not that simple. Parents who need to take time off for sick kids, for doctor appointments, for school events, for household emergencies, and for their own illnesses can face sanctions at work including loss of the job itself. There were plenty of times I kept a kid home from school only to have them running around fit as a fiddle by 10:30am. It can be worth the risk of sending in a sluggish kid, hoping for that miracle cure instead of that dreaded phone call.

My student’s Mom took the risk. I am annoyed at being caught in the crosshairs here, but I know she didn’t declare the war, she’s just soldiering through the best she can. It’s time we took serious care of our children and their working parents and put some safeguards in place to make sure Moms don’t have to send in their sick kids.

Judges welcome

Constantly judged. You feel that way when you are a teacher. The thing is, I like feedback, I like conversations about how things can get better. But, it doesn’t always sound like dialogue to build ideas and improve my work. Sometimes it feels like scolding.

This week, I’ve been thinking about this feeling of being judged and what I’ve decided is that it’s all in the hearing. If I assume that all the comments sent my way about what goes on in my classroom, and what doesn’t, are intended to open a constructive dialogue to ultimately get at what’s best for students, then isn’t that what they become? As much as I may disagree with some of my colleagues and administrators, ultimately I do believe that they all want to do a good job for the children in their care. So, any comments or actions are pointed to that end. I decided to look at a choice judgment sent my way this week in just that light.

I was at a professional development workshop all day Monday so a substitute teacher was covering my class. This person did not follow my plans and perhaps didn’t read my notes at all. One important note she failed to read was about dismissal and so a little boy who was supposed to stay after school for a science program was instead put on the bus. Fortunately, his grandmother forgot it was after-school program day and was at the bus stop to meet him, so no big crisis arose. However, his mother was justifiably upset and sent me a kindly worded note that essentially asked how the hell that happened and what was I going to do so it didn’t happen again? My first reaction? Defensiveness. I had left the instructions. I had done my job. What more could I do?

And then I really asked myself that question.

What more could I do?

There was more. I talked to the Vice-Principal about the problems. I wrote a complaint to our principal so this person would be monitored more closely and not asked back to our school if problems persisted. Come to find out, she had already been written up for issues like coming in to school late and not going to duty stations. She had been in the office to discuss and remedy these problems already. If I had not brought these new problems to light, administration may have thought that she was now on the right track. So now admin was aware of the problem; step one complete. The next thing I had to do was see how I could change things in Room 102 to avoid these problems in the future. I looked at the sub dismissal notes, which seemed perfectly clear to me. I had a friend read them to see if they made sense. She said they did. So, perhaps the problem was that the substitute wasn’t reading them. I can’t be there to make sure the sub does her job, so I have to give more responsibility to the kids. From now on dismissal notes are not just on the clipboard that I carry out to the bus line, they will be posted on the wall by the door. Each student can check where she is supposed to go on which day. There will be a place for changes in dismissal to be noted on the board, like when Ann is being picked up instead of going on the bus or when Girl Scouts is cancelled. With a little practice, I think the kids will be able to run dismissal on their own, whether I’m there as a guide or not.

Teachers are judged every day. I’ve decided to listen to hear where the judgment is coming from, listening with the ear of the learner. I want to be a better teacher, a better colleague. I want to do better.

Judges, I’m ready for you.

(Still, it would be nice if you handed out a “good job” sticker every now and then.)