The Eight Stages of a Teacher’s Sick Day

Here are the eight emotional stages that I believe all teachers go through before hitting the “submit” button in the absence reporting system.

SHOCK OR DISBELIEF

This usually happens after that one really good sneeze that leaves you insta-congested.  All of a sudden you’re wondering, wait…am I getting sick?  No…. Am I?  No. Yes, I am!  How did this happen??  I ate a lot of fruit last week and I went to the gym!  Things were going so well!  Was it because I didn’t wash my hands before I ate those grapes?  Was it that kid who sneezed on me mid-sentence?  Was it because my whistle fell on the floor and I continued to blow on it anyway?  How did it get in me???

DENIAL

Then you try to convince yourself that you aren’t that sick.  Not sick enough to make it worth typing up a painfully detailed day plan (admit it, some of your best day plans are for supply teachers).  You sit and stare blankly for a while as you try to gauge just how badly you’re feeling.  Even though you now have the shivers and your back aches and your head feels like it’s forty feet under water, you’re sure that you can make it through the day.  It’s still easier than the horribly agonizing job of writing out that day plan.  Besides, you have prep, and there’s no way you’re wasting that puppy.  Maybe you’ll do some extra silent reading time.  You got this.

BARGAINING

But if you have to stay home, maybe you will spend the afternoon catching up on that stack of marking that’s been rotting in your bag for a couple of weeks.  Or maybe you’ll plan that social studies unit, or make your math lessons better.  Or maybe you’ll just catch up on vacuuming and laundry so that you can do all that stuff the next day.  Yes, you’ll do one of those things.

GUILT

But you were supposed to run art club at recess, and you already had to cancel last week because you were behind on your report cards.  And now your students will have one less day to review for the math test you’re fairly sure they haven’t even noticed on the calendar yet.  And if you don’t go in, it’s going to bump back beginning the research project that should have been started last week if it’s going to be finished before the end of the term.  Oh, and a parent is coming in after school.  And maybe you’re not really that sick.  How many days have you used already?  Maybe you shouldn’t have used that mental health day last month.  Maybe you just need to suck it up and go in.

ANGER

You know what? Fuck that. Fuck. That. The thought of taking on twenty-five vital little bodies in your weakened state is enough to push you through the guilt. And now you’re just pissed because you feel even worse but have even less time and you still need to come up with that mother %!@*ing day plan! None of your materials are ready at school and your desk is piled with teacher mess and you didn’t bring your work home because you were going kamikaze it in the morning and you just REALLY aren’t prepared for this shit.  Now you’re going to have to spend an hour or two figuring something out that will keep your students busy enough that they won’t wreak havoc in your absence, but also nothing too important, because your supply teacher is probably going to fuck it up anyway.  Sorry supply teachers, but despite your best intentions, you just probably will!  And you really resent the fact that this job makes you work even when you’re in the throes of the common cold.  Nobody else’s job makes them do that!  (Probably not true.)  And, who gave you this cold, anyway?  Was it Michael?  Screw him!  Screw all those parents who send their sick, infected children to school to be babysat so that they can go to work!  Because of them now you have to take a day off work!  And it’s making you RAGE!!!

DEPRESSION

So you slowly start typing your plans but you’re certain they’re really lame and you know your supply teacher is going to seriously judge you because, c’mon, who leaves “make a skit” in all three blocks.  But you’ve simply lost the heart to make them good (because after all, your supply teacher is just going to screw them up anyway) and you don’t have the will to think about it anymore and you just really want to overdose on Nyquil and disappear into your sheets and away from the world forever and ever.  You finish typing your plans with one hand while the other holds up your listless head and you maybe shed a tear because you just feel so, so lousy and this is so much work and it’s not fair and why did you become a teacher.

ACCEPTANCE

You finally finish your plans and you sigh in ultimate relief as you hit “submit” on the absence reporting system.  It’s officially somebody else’s problem, and at this point, you don’t really care if everyone else has to lose their preps to cover for you.  You don’t even care if no one shows up at all and your class turns into a legit Lord of the Flies situation.  You are not going in and it’s too late to change your mind now.  You pop a responsible amount of those Nyquils, make yourself a tea, and maybe even enjoy some t.v. without worrying about your usual 9 pm curfew because you, my friend, are sleeping in tomorrow.  On a Tuesday!

…SLIGHT UNEASE

This stage is not in the standard Kubler-Ross model, but is an emotion unique to the teacher’s sick day.  You will inevitably spend the rest of your time off with the lingering worry that your phone is going to ring because you forgot to put something important in your day plan.  Or maybe nobody picked up your job and your absence is causing some serious chaos on the school front.  You picture your principal having to deliver your lame plans and you feel a little (more) sick.  You instinctively wake up before morning bell and check to see if anyone has messaged you, and you maybe even run to your computer to see who, if anyone (a constant problem in French Immersion), picked up the job.  If you’re lucky, it’s someone good and you can spend the rest of the day more or less relaxing, maybe just glancing at the clock every so often and picturing what your students should be doing at that exact moment.  If you’re not lucky, it’s that crazy lady that your kids are going to yell stories about the next day.  And if you’re really unlucky, it’s a name you’ve never seen before, and you have to spend the day in tormented suspense, wondering what awaits you upon your return the next morning….

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68 thoughts on “The Eight Stages of a Teacher’s Sick Day

    1. Wow. What an insult to supply teachers. We have the same education as you, and in many cases more years under our belts. Perhaps people don’t pick up your jobs because of your attitude towards them. Not at all amusing.

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      1. It’s not meant to be an insult. It’s supposed to be honest and funny. I would enjoy a blog where supply teachers call us on the things we do. And I was a supply teacher, I’m no different than you.

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      2. wow get defensive much? Jobs don’t picked up because there is not enough supply teachers and teachers make good plans for supplies because it makes your life easier. I am not an teacher but an EA. I am the one who supports you. But when we get supplies who think they know it all and have an attitude like yours we let you drown on your own.

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      3. “…when we get supplies who think they know it all and have an attitude like yours we let you drown on your own.”

        wow. that’s professional.
        newsflash: the ones who really “drown” in these circumstances are the students.
        if you put personal politics before doing your job (i.e. “support”), you are no better.

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      4. I’m going to take a wild leap of faith and presume that “supply teacher” = substitute teacher, which I have been, and no matter the level of his/her education, it always ends up being a waste of a day. The kids don’t even take the “real” teachers at school seriously when we have to give up our prep periods to cover classes for our colleagues when subs don’t show up, so why on earth would they take an outsider seriously? You totally need to get over yourself and allow a little lighthearted humor into your supremely-experienced belt.

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      5. Don’t sweat it Erin. We were all supply teachers. We all fucked up other people’s lessons. It’s unavoidable. When you get a full time job, and call in a supply one day, you’ll be astonished at how something you thought was perfectly clear could be so completely misconstrued by someone else. It’s amusing, that’s all.

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  1. Sorry actual teachers but nobody (mostly anyways) wants to be a supply teacher because your plans really do suck and they’d much rather have their own class to make their own plans for. By all means though, keep calling in sick because those supply teachers have families to support. Maybe this will make me laugh when I don’t go to bed every night wondering if my husband will get a job for the morning!

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    1. The supply teacher joke was meant to be an exaggeration to cobvey the tone of the writing… we love our good supply teachers and they often join our staff permanentlt. I mean no offense, I was a supply teacher too and messed a lot of shit up. It’s just for fun.

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  2. I’m currently FT but for personal reasons have to go back to supply…I’ve done both… my lesson plans are pretty darn detailed, but I’ve covered for people who write one sentence or “think up any game you want”. There are types – of supply, and ‘actual’ teacher, so it shouldn’t even be called that. I tend to email the teacher or leave full notes…often I find I’m personally left none. Again, all depends on the individual!

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  3. The struggle is real, in so many ways! I love how this piece accurately outlines the process we go through in moments of illness. The only thing that surprised me was the dilemna took place the night before whereas mine is usually the morning of! Procrastinate much?! Sadly, some people need to relax over the whole supply teacher component. From my perspective, a great many of my fellow colleagues that cover for me are fantastic and respect the plan I have so tediously planned out for them; unfortunately, we have all had experiences with those few who completely ignore your wishes and simply do their own thing and THESE are the moments that stick out because they are so frustrating. If the author is guilty of anything it would be bringing humour to an irritating situation. The writing is for entertainment and it does it’s job with hints of humour and honesty. Well done.

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      1. It’s with an apostrophe is a contraction for it is. Its without the apostrophe is the possessive pronoun. Is there an apostrophe in his? hers? ours? yours? no. Neither is there one in its.

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  4. This was hilarious! And right on…and supply teachers should not take offence, because for every good supply there’s two who cannot follow directions. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to come back and re-teach a lesson or worse yet, give extensions because the supply simply did not follow the clearly written directions on the lesson plan. I have long envied the people who wake up sick, make a call, and roll back over. But we are paid well and the job is pretty great!

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    1. The same can be said about full-time teachers. “…because for every good supply there’s two…” Don’t you mean “there are two”? Learn basic English please.

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      1. Yes, “there’s” is an acceptable form of “there are”…I teach English but thanks for trying to give me a lesson on appropriate grammar! Contractions are acceptable…and you used one as well! Otherwise you would have written, “Do you not mean”…also, a comma belongs after English: “Learn basic English, please”.

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      2. Ha, ha…I have an administrator who ALWAYS says “there is” when it should be “there are”, because she’s referencing the plural. It drives me C-R-A-Z-Y!

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  5. “The supply teacher joke was meant to be an exaggeration to cobvey the tone of the writing… we love our good supply teachers and they often join our staff permanentlt. I mean no offense, I was a supply teacher too and messed a lot of shit up. It’s just for fun.” Sorry for the typos? Would you accept this writing from one of your students?

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  6. Wow, there are a lot of uptight people here. It is a great blog post because so many of us can relate to it. Next challenge? Let’s try not to be so judgemental of each other. We get enough of that from the public.

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    1. oh come one- she’s making fun of herself more than “supply teachers!” She did actually say that some of them are good. where’s your sense of humour?

      I’m also surprised to see how serious and angry some people are–lighten up!

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  7. Well, there sure are some uptight people here. This was a great blog post because it is so relatable and humorous. Next challenge? Let’s try to support each other instead of being so judgemental. We get enough of that from the public. Are you really a person who enjoys picking apart another adult’s writing on a social media site? I have way bigger fish to fry personally. 🙂

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  8. Hilarious. I’m not a teacher, but I see this as a parent who (at the risk of being the subject of the next hilarious blog post) is heavily involved at my kids’ school. I’m that parent you get notes from the supply about who came up at the start of the day, introduced themselves, and started rambling on about every kid in class as though the supply has some idea of who the kids are by name (since I know 3/4 of the “kinderyard”, and 95% of the Grade 2 kids). So I’ve noticed you answer questions. Mine is: do parents like me set your mind at ease (a bit), or just make your after-sick-day day worse? My kids’ teachers always tell me they appreciate knowing I’ll try to help, but they have to deal with me every day, and I’m not stupid enough to not recognize that lol

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      1. I try not to. I do not step into the classroom unless I am bringing something to one of my kids. When the kids in the yard bring me their problems (which they do – frequently), I either refer them to or take them to an on-duty teacher unless they are all busy, or it’s just a “sad” issue (i.e. MY MOMMY WENT HOME! I am of the opinion teachers get enough of that, so if I can settle it on my own, one less headache lol)

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  9. Holy Smokes!
    Where I come from you have to be an adult before you can be a teacher. It’s even better if you aren’t a bully. In this neck of the woods we have a zero tolerance to bullying at our schools. I sure hope the way you teachers treat each other isn’t a reflection of the way you treat your students.
    Sorry if I’ve made any spelling, grammar, or sentence structure mistakes as I’m NOT a teacher. However, I most certainly did see the light hearted humor in this blog and really enjoyed it. That is until I read the comments!

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    1. You took the words right out of my mouth. I am a teacher and there is no way I would check anyone’s grammar or spelling online. It would be rude. Sometimes, people are ridiculous.

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  10. Love it! I’m a substitute teacher where I live now and have been on both ends. It’s not easy following another teachers plan. We all have our unique ways of delivering a lesson and often half of our lesson is in our head. I have had some interesting lesson plans left for me as a sub and days where I have nothing and have to wing it. Pretty much every teacher I know (I was the same) just hopes no one gets hurt and the sub survives the day without having a mental break down!

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  11. I have never in my life heard the term “supply teacher.” It sounds really strange to me and also a little demeaning or dismissive (Go get a supply teacher from the supply closet) Anyway I was a substitute teacher for two years before I became a full time teacher and I think *all* teachers should substitute first before getting a full time job. I think substituting taught me many lessons and gave me great ideas for what to leave for lesson plans. After I retired, I started substituting again and I can tell you there are just as many teachers who leave lame plans as substitute teachers who don’t follow them very well. 🙂

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      1. I’m told supply teacher is a Canadian thing, but maybe it is only Ontario. With cuts to the education system, school closures, larger class sizes, and teachers buying a lot of the basics themselves, we had to put SOMEthing in all those cupboards 😉

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    1. In BC we call them TOCs (teachers on call) . They do not want to be called “subs” either ie: “under” as they are fully qualified teachers. In Burnaby we get to request our favourite TOCs, as long as they are available, and don’t get called out to another teacher’s class who couldn’t get a TOC, we can then relax during our sick days, knowing that our plans will be followed.

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  12. This is GREAT! It’s strangely comforting to read that these emotional stages of a sick day don’t just apply to Americans. Apparently, this is simply a teacher problem!

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  13. People are getting sidetracked by the supply teacher comment. This…was….priceless! You called that right! All this angst before we finally, finally throw the towel in and call in sick!

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  14. Sometimes we teachers – all of us, supply and FT, really take ourselves a bit too seriously. We’re all fighting the good fight…sometimes our cover plans are shi**y and sometimes they rock…sometimes we rock a lesson (cover or our own class) and sometimes the best effort sinks like a stone. Let’s stay in it TOGETHER. Enough forces are bashing away at us already – let’s not turn on each other.

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  15. Are you sure you guys aren’t RN’s? They have no tolerance for “floats” to their unit (same as a supply, substitute, whatever you call them).

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  16. Just a quick question. I’ve never heard the term “supply” teacher before. What part(s) of the country use this term? Just curious. We call them “substitute teachers” or “subs” in the Midwest.

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  17. As a full time classroom teacher, I can confirm that all classroom teachers are awful and all substitute teachers are incompetent.

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  18. Wish this didn’t have swearing in it, so I could share it with everyone I know. Seriously, this is too true to be funny. I’m laying on the couch right now, sick as a dog, but can’t rationalize missing a day the week before break…. and I missed one last week but I am still sick! Aaarrgh!

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    1. I debated the swearing but I felt it really needed to be in there to convey the level of rage, haha. Hope you feel better. I’m not feeling great today either but we have a play to put on for the school so there’s no way I can miss it.

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    2. So true. I love what this piece has to say. I am a substitute DECE who works for both school boards. I am enjoying the comments when they are constructive or at least positive

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    1. Such a great post! I think all teachers go through this inner battle before committing to the absence lol. Unfortunately there will always be those people who need to demean others. Perhaps if “Lee” or “Erin” weren’t so uptight, they would have their own classroom by now. That negative energy shows in interviews. As for the writer of this post, thanks for keeping your responses classy and with a smile. The true intent of the post was captured by most of us. Thanks for the chuckle 🙂 🙂 🙂

      PS 2 more days yay!!

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  19. It’s all true…from both perspectives. The worst thing is when you write the detailed plans expecting the great sub you personally requested and the sub gets pulled to cover another class in an emergency because that sub is so knowledgeable and can cover any class with minimal plans.
    It is really tough to write non-generic sub plans that keep the momentum going for your students when you are truly too sick to drag yourself in to work but come in anyway to set up your plans for the day for the sub to teach.
    By the way, I will always remember the incredible sub who sent me home when I had walking pneumonia, I had come in before school to set things up for the day. She walked me to the door and said…I’ve got this. Don’t worry. I had burned most of my sick leave that year taking care of my own sick children. She understood and I was so grateful..

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  20. I enjoyed the “Eight Stages” and thought there was a lot of truth in it! A few comments on the spinoff topic of “supplies”…
    I’m one of those people who has worked in both ways – ‘regular’ and ‘supply’ or ‘sub.’ I began my career by substituting, and the worst of it as I recall was not the classroom but the staffroom where I felt invisible. After about 25 years of full-time teaching, I retired and returned as a supply (yes, in Ontario) and found the situation much improved both with teachers and students. Staff members would greet me, and I would introduce myself to the students as a real teacher currently working part time, or as a ‘guest’ teacher there to make sure they would lose no learning time just because their teacher had to be away. It usually worked. As for teacher plans, they were usually quite clear and complete, though often required nothing of me but to ensure the students completed the work (which, alas, students sometimes told me wouldn’t count). It really helps if they believe it ‘counts’!
    The last few years I’ve been in the States and have had some subbing experience in private schools.
    There’s very little work though, as the teachers, I can imagine, rarely get to the eighth stage! I have been expected to cover exactly what the teacher would have. This means reading and knowing the material in advance and teaching it either according to their plans – or my own. In other words, subbing is really teaching, and both students and faculty know it.
    Anyway, to ‘regular teachers’ everywhere: tough as it is to take those sick days… keep those germs at home, and relax and enjoy the break! And let the ‘supplies’ really teach.

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  21. Omg this is so totally true,it takes twice as much effort to have a sick day as it does to just go to work sick. Then you come back the next day and have to deal with all the issues from the days before and the parents who like to tell you everything that happened when you were away even though there’s nothing you can do about it now. I had to take 2 weeks long service leave and had prepared the most detailed plan left notes about all my students with explicit details of what to do and say with certain children it took me ages. Get back and so much was not done correctly and there were issues here, there and everywhere, parents telling me this and that and I was like ahhhhhhhh . I then had to quickly re-teach and assess my kids ready for report cards. Was a nightmare. I have previously done supply work and have had good lesson plans and next to nothing left but this blog was hilarious and so true.

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