It’s that time of year again. The custodians are spraying off the desktops and those itty-bitty plastic chairs. The tower of surplus tissue boxes in the corner of the room is rapidly shrinking. The classroom instruction is being accompanied by a chorus of coughing. Yes, it’s here. Cold and flu season has made its way into your child’s classroom. As the mother of two and teacher of 400 (an average of 20 students over a 20 year career), I have seen both sides of the “sick child” dilemma.
My son had just turned two when I began teaching. One Monday morning in January, he woke up sick, so I called for a sub. In the next hour and a half, I changed three soiled diapers, cleaned puke off of almost every surface in our home, typed up seven hours of lesson plans, and managed to get my sick child to stop vomiting long enough to get him packed into a car seat and drive to the school to deliver the lesson plans and lay papers and books out for the substitute, before the school bell sounded.
It was a rough day, to say the least, but when the pukey stuff ended, it was so nice to be able to cuddle and snuggle on the sofa together. As difficult as it had been to get ready for a sub and take care of a sick baby at the same time, I couldn’t have imagined not staying home with him. He needed the attention and love and spoiling that seem to make a child feel better, faster. Sometimes a mommy is the best medicine.
As my children got older, they began trying, as all kids do, to play the “I’m going to pretend to be sick to skip school” card. Because I had been a professional at this game, it was always easy to spot. I devised an unwritten rule for our house: no fever, no sick day. I thought it was brilliant. If they complained of not feeling well, I stuck the thermometer under an armpit and stood watching them until it beeped. If it was under 99, they were going to school. End of story.
Until the morning when sickness decided to remind me that there are no rules to sickness. Anything goes . . . and sometimes out of more than one end. On this particular morning, I was 20 minutes away from driving to my school, when my pre-teen daughter rolled out of bed and told me she wasn’t feeling well. I whipped out the thermometer, told her she was fine after I read the numbers, and turned around to leave the bathroom to go fix a quick breakfast when I heard the splatter. There is nothing that can take away your morning hunger like looking at puke sprayed across the floor tile. I didn’t think it was possible to type lesson plans that fast, and I have never been so grateful for email attachments as I was that morning. I’m pretty sure my daughter was grateful for me that day, too, as I replaced the cold washcloths on her forehead, rubbed her back, gave her all kinds of attention and loved and spoiled her. Even big girls need their moms when they are feeling miserable.
Experiencing these things as a mom isn’t pleasant, but it is part of the job description. Unfortunately, most of the sickness I experience during cold and flu season occurs in my classroom. I think it’s funny when I hear someone talk about the germs they are sure to catch while waiting in the doctor’s office. That germ count is nothing compared to the germs that exist in a room full of sniffling 6-year-olds. These germs spread faster than whispers of birthday invitations in someone’s locker. They are most likely big enough to be seen without a microscope. And even though the kids love to pump sanitizer all over their hands and forearms, the germs manage to somehow attach and leave the school building with them.
It starts simply enough. One student from table group three, which is situated in the middle of the classroom, is sick on Monday. On Tuesday, the rest of table group three is missing. By Wednesday, part of table group four is gone and one from table group two. On Thursday, the first sick child has returned but four others are gone. By Friday, there are only 10 students left that have not been affected by this particular strain of sickness.
As bad as that example is, it is even worse when the sick child comes to school, rather than stays at home. Murphy’s Law states very clearly in the teacher’s manual at my school that, “A child WILL get sick and vomit on the classroom carpet during the hour that the custodian is out for lunch.” Now, imagine every cleaning supply that you would have access to as a mom in your home NOT being available in your classroom. So, as a teacher, I now have two choices: I either herd my students to the other end of the room, encouraging them to step around the puddle of yuck, so I can read stories for the next hour; or I can take my students down to the library so I can read stories for the next hour and they can breath puke-free air.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if I give the sick student attention and love and spoiling after he vomits in the classroom, the answer is an unfortunate no. I usually give him a bucket or trashcan, and directions to the office. Most of my attention at this point has to be on the other 22 kiddos, before one of them walks through the puke.
I know it sounds harsh, but so is the cold and flu season. So as I end this writing (so I can get a good night’s sleep to prevent illness), I’ll leave you with some advice from a teacher. Years ago, there was a television show called Kids Say the Darndest Things. It’s true. I could write a book about the honest things they say. My students tell me when they threw up during the night. They tell me when they puke while getting ready for school. They tell me when they get sick in the car driving to school. They even tell me when someone at home says, “Don’t tell the teacher you are sick, or I will have to leave work to come and get you.” I love it when my students are honest, but I love it even more when I know that they are getting attention and love and spoiling when they are sick, in the comfort of their own home.