Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Oxygen Mask

I did something unusual this past week.

I took a sick day.

Yes, I really was sick. I rarely take them, even if I am sick; which is rare, anyway. My district gives me ten days a year, and they accumulate over time. One of my former principals once advised me to save them as we never know what may happen in the future, i.e., hospitalization, severe illness, etc. When my first partner died, I used three weeks' worth as bereavement, since my district didn't recognize same-sex couples then. Ever since then, I've been collecting them, yet taking only one or two a year for mental health. As a bonus, if I have enough days saved when I retire, I can cash them in for extra service time, meaning I can either retire a year earlier than my current target and get one more year's credit for a full 37 years credit, or retire as planned in 2020 and get one extra year for 38 years. So, there's a plus to not using my sick days.

I do see the need to take them once in a while, at least for my mental health, if not for my actual physical health. This class has been exceptionally challenging this year. It seems each class has been more challenging than the prior since my ex left me. Maybe it is no coincidence; after all, my divorce has turned my life upside down-emotionally, mentally and financially, so as I'm coping through the changes, I'm not as 'on' my teaching game. My colleagues tell me otherwise. The students are just getting more challenging in their behaviors, and that my class is indeed a 'unique' group.

It's very stressful to take a sick day, planned or not. I need to make sure my lessons are up to date, I try to have everything ready for the substitute to make his/her day as easy as possible. Plus, I like to find a substitute I can rely on. In my years of teaching, I've encountered many substitutes who are very competent, as well as a few who leave a bit to be desired. I hate returning after taking a sick day to find out that the substitute didn't cover any of my plans and I have to reteach what I left for him/her to do, or that my class ran all over the substitute. I like to have a regular substitute or two who get to know my students and who my students get to know. It's easier for all concerned. Therefore, I keep a list of my preferred substitutes. It took me a while to find one, as many of my preferred substitutes were unavailable for the day I wanted, a Monday, as I guessed a few other teachers wanted to extend their weekend. But, eventually I did. So, I called the Substitute Office and reported my absence for Monday.

I've been feeling down a lot lately. A number of things have contributed to my feeling down, and ultimately to my getting sick. I've felt overwhelmed with all the changes in my life combined with the difficult class I have this year, the general workload that accompanies teaching and the continued demoralization of the profession. I must have looked so bad that when I walked into the faculty room yesterday, a friend told me I looked like I was about to implode. On top of all that, a number of friends have shared some of their concerns with me and like a good friend I've tried to be there for them. And yet, there's one friend I've ignored a lot lately.


Once I got over the fact I was actually taking a sick day, and ignored the actual cold I had, as well as the teacher guilt: will my class be okay? Did I leave enough work for the substitute? Will he survive? I knew I'd done the right thing. Yes, physically, I still felt miserable, but I knew my class was in good hands, though I feared they would they run roughshod over him. But, isn't that what he's being paid for? To manage their day and try and maintain my educational program?

A friend once reminded me of what they say in those airline safety demonstrations, "If you're traveling with a small child or someone else who needs your assistance, put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others."

So, I slept some more after I woke up to phone the school telling them I wouldn't be in; then, I read a bit, I wrote some, chatted with a friend, read some more, wrote a few more lines, continued chatting, took a nap, forced gallons of fluids, and noticed my general mood beginning to elevate ever so slightly.

I actually felt better emotionally. As this was a Monday I was taking off, I'd also slept and rested most of the weekend which contributed to my physical improvement. Yet, the one day off from this class did me a world of good. Okay, maybe a small world, but it felt good to take the day. For me.

Maybe I'll use my oxygen mask a couple more times before the end of the year. Just don't tell my principal.

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