In the 7 years that I have been teaching, I’ve never had a day off work because I am sick. I’ve always pulled myself together and mastered through. I hate having the feeling of letting down my teaching team, leaving them in the lurch, but I also hate feeling like I’m abandoning my class. I’ve always said, that unless it is impossible for me to talk or walk, I will be in school. No. Matter. What.
Last term, my 7 year record finally ended. I had tonsillitis. I couldn’t talk without my eyes watering because I had such a sore and a swollen throat, massively painful difficulties in swallowing anything, even water and an extremely guilty conscience. Physically, I was healthy everywhere else. Just a small area of my body, that happened to be my most important teaching tool inside the classroom, had given up on me.
My class can be very kind and caring when I’m under the weather. It’s one of their best qualities. If I say I’ve got a headache and would rather be at home, they pull it together, look after me and make sure everyone else is doing exactly as I’ve asked them to before they check themselves. However, their inability to listen to each other, or adults carefully, is one of their worst qualities and even worse when you are struggling to talk. On the Friday before my week off, as much as I love them, they broke my voice and probably made it worse than it could’ve been if I’d stayed at home that day. That would be my own stubborn fault, not theirs though. My TA and I were both suffering with sore throats and my voice was ready to give up. The afternoon went by and even the challenging children were picking up the slack for me. Announcing tidy up time, or shouting instructions to sit at English tables, or which table needed to grab their home time things from the cloakroom. They were a huge help, but barely listened to each other.
I drove home and tried to eat something but couldn’t really swallow it. I made a warm drink and headed to the out of hours clinic where I was told, it was nothing to be concerned about. Just a viral infection. I couldn’t have antibiotics but should just keep drinking lots of water, stay hydrated and take pain relievers if necessary. On Sunday, I woke up and couldn’t even open my mouth to brush my teeth. I knew I’d need to go back to the walk in clinic and any doctor that I’d see, would probably want to take a look inside my mouth too, so I slotted my toothbrush in between my lips and tried to brush my teeth the best I could. Arriving at the doctors, I walked into the room and tried to explain what was wrong. I’d come prepared with my usual handbag full of pens and post it notes. I wrote down what was wrong and he took a look inside my mouth. When he tried to open my mouth, tears poured from my eyes like waterfalls because it was so painful to open my jaw. The back of my throat felt like it was being ripped apart like a bread roll. It was so painful, I was crying and couldn’t stop myself.
I was finally prescribed some antibiotics as my tonsils had swollen and were incredibly infected. My uvula (the dangly thing at the back of your throat) was also incredibly swollen and hideously infected. No longer small, pink and tucked away at the back of my throat, it was about the size of my thumb, resting on my tongue and a grosse yellow colour. Along with my swollen tonsils, it was the reason why I couldn’t swallow anything except ice cold water or slidey custard. Nothing was going past that swollen lump at the back of my mouth.
I’d spent the weekend in and out of walk in clinics, pharmacies, and eating as much custard and drinking as much ice cold water as I possibly could. On Saturday and Sunday nights, I had been waking up at random moments in the night, but coincidentally, they’d coincide with some of my tablet times. In the early hours of Monday morning, I’d suffered through 3 hours of torture to move the times to more sociable hours, starting from 5:00am. I emailed in sick and managed to nap my way through most of the working morning. My life entered a viscious cycle of eat custard, attempt to swallow pills, sleep, repeat. This happened for 3 days, until I decided that I couldn’t bare to look at the same four walls any longer.
During my short time off, I was desperate to be useful. I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile at home. Jeremy Kyle was going to be the death of me. I had changed from eating custard to eating different flavours of jelly to save my sanity, but it wasn’t enough. I began thinking about all of the jobs I could be doing instead of sitting around my house. I’d already painted my bathroom walls, cleaned out the kitchen cupboards and hoovered the home more times than I think I have since I moved into my little house. I asked if I could have some books to do my assessments, but was told I needed to rest. I’d rested enough though. I was bored and getting agitated at how useless I was becoming. I could see the assessment data deadline edging closer and I was incapable of doing anything for it, because I was stuck at home.
An email to management in school sorted a suitable solution to the problem, I could return to work, but to do assessments in the planning room only. I wasn’t to be in class or spend too much time talking. I skipped into school, happy to see smiling faces and 3D people who could actually interact back to me. I managed to get my data done and finalised before the weekend, which left me 2 days to prepare my voice and diet for a 2 day residential on Monday.
I’ve never been so happy to be back in school. I walked out to greet my class, on that Thursday, to cheers and smiles from both the children and their parents. I received many hugs from children walking past me, telling me that they missed me and hoped I was feeling better. I gathered the children into the classroom and explained I was back, but not in class. They would have a supply teacher for the next 2 days but I would be popping in to wave and collect some books now and then. Disappointed groans echoed in the room and I felt an enormous wave of guilt wash over me. I knew I couldn’t stay in class though. I had too much assessment data to finalise and it really wouldn’t do my voice any good to start teaching again. I popped into class throughout the day and realised that my class did indeed love me. (Although they have a funny way of showing it sometimes.) They stole hugs as I tried to walk past them with my arms full of books. They followed me across the room and opened doors for me. They tried to follow me to the planning room, for no other reason than to chat with me and tell me how much they missed me.
It made me re-realise that I love my class too, and though I’ll never verbally admit to it, I missed them on those 3 days more than actually being able to speak. They’re already dropping hints about when I’m their teacher in year 4, next year, and I’m going to feel so terrible when I break the news to them, that I will not be their teacher next year. Not at all. I won’t even be in the school next year, as I’ve already made plans to teach in a different school. There’s going to be oh so many tears in July, mostly from me, but at least I’ll be going out on a high.