I was recently listening to a teacher share how they ran out of sick days in October. Knowing that any future days off would mean taking a pay deduction was adding another layer of stress during a time when she was feeling mentally pushed to her limits.
No one wants to be in this position, so I want to share a few ways that teachers can be proactive before running out of sick days. As well, I'll share a few ideas if you have already used all the days provided in your contract and there are still months of the school year to go.
First of all, take the days off that you need. If you are one of those teachers that refuses to take time off because you’re worried what others will think, or you don’t want to write the dang sub plans, please take your sick days. That’s what they are there for, and they are built into your contract for this reason.
Have a plan in place before your child gets sick
One of the challenges of sick days comes when we aren’t sick, but our child is, and we need to take time off to stay home with them. Here’s where being proactive can really help.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have family or loved ones that are willing to help you out, you may already have a plan in place.
But if you don’t have loved ones nearby, and your child can’t go to school or daycare, consider asking a trusted friend to help you out. Maybe you work out a trade where they take care of your child in exchange for you taking something off their plate. Maybe you cook them dinner and wash their car as a form of payment for watching your child. Time is currency, so remember that payment doesn’t always have to come in the form of writing a check.
There are also services such as care.com where people offer nannying or child care services. This site requires applicants to go through background checks and is fully vetted. I suggest being proactive and scheduling a meet-up in person before your child gets sick. This way you get to know the childcare provider and find out if they are a good fit for your child. You will also want to find someone willing to watch your child on short notice knowing that your child is staying home because they are sick.
Prioritize Your Physical and Mental Health
As teachers, we are exposed to all sorts of germs. And new teachers often find that they spend the first year sick. Be proactive about your health. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and finding space for you.
With teaching, we find that the work is never done, and that means that we have to find space to let some things go in order to prioritize our mental and physical health. If you like to workout after school, set an alarm to leave school at a specific time. Think of your workout as an appointment with yourself. If you have kids, find a gym that includes childcare. I have a teacher friend that takes full advantage of the free childcare. She exercises several days of the week, but on the other days, she chooses to decompress and sit in the steam room and sauna. This alone time can be just what is needed to make space for your mental and physical health.
Personally, I have found that prioritizing my mental health has helped me tremendously. Seeing a therapist and finding tools and strategies to navigate stressful situations has been a huge help. If you have a therapist that also does “check-ins,” I’ve found that this provides a way to work through things before they take over. When our mental health is not top-notch it can impact our physical health too.
Determine the Lowest Hanging Fruit
If you have already used all your sick days, sometimes our mind will jump to, “I need to get a weekend job!” Stop. This is not sustainable, and there are only 24 hours in a day for everyone.
Instead, consider the lowest-hanging fruit. By this I mean, where can you find a little extra cash to make up for the wages you’ll lose if you take a sick day? Because if you are sick, please take a sick day.
So often when things feel tight, we start by making cuts to our budget. While I believe it is important to live within our means, instead of starting with tightening things up, start by looking for ways to make a little extra money first.
Do you have a garage or storage space with items that you could sell to make a little extra cash? Could you hold a weekend sale to pay for that gym membership for the next six months so you can prioritize your health? Are there people who owe you money and you’ve neglected to just bring it up with them?
If you aren’t sure where to start, ask yourself what electronics are laying around that you never use? For instance, we had an older cell phone that we were keeping as a back-up, but realized it was better to sell it before it had no value at all. We listed it on Craigslist, and someone needed an inexpensive cell phone for their child. Our older phone was exactly what they were looking to buy. So, start with your tech items that you no longer use, and you’ll be surprised how you can easily find a little extra cash to make up for that sick day.
Does your District Have a Program?
Also, check to see if your district has a sick plan program. I worked in a school where we could share our sick days with others in need. Some teachers have built up so many sick days that they will expire if they don’t use them. Often, they are happy to share their days with someone who is in need.
Looking for other teaching tips? You might like these blog posts.