A recent Twitter post from Liz Ryan @humanworkplace read:

Coronavirus is teaching us that:

  1. Healthcare is a right
  2. Paid sick time is a right
  3. Many, many people could do their work from home (clearly not teachers)
  4. We are more dependent on a healthy society than we want to acknowledge

This tweet got me thinking about a couple of things. It got me thinking about how teachers and education workers drag ourselves into work when we are ill.  When I first began teaching I used to do this all of the time.  I thought for sure that my students absolutely needed me to be there and the classroom would fall apart in the hands of any other teacher. I was worried that my classroom would be a disaster and I would find notes about behaviour behind from the occasional teacher and thought that this was somehow my fault. So I would drag myself to work not feeling well, extending the sickness for myself and thoughtlessly exposing my students and colleagues to the illness.  I hear it all the time in the staffroom, “I probably should have stayed home but I figured that I had better drag myself in because…”  It is a martyr complex.  Get over yourself.  You are not irreplaceable. There is no reward for going to work ill.

This tweet also got me thinking about how much I appreciate the work our occasional teachers do each day.  Just by doing their job, they allow me to be able to stay at home and get better.  They are professionally trained teachers.  As fellow colleagues and ETFO members I trust that they intend to do the best for our students when they enter our classrooms.

The tweet also got me thinking about the shame and guilt that educators often feel when they are ill.  I mean, if so-and-so drags themselves into work even though they are sick then it starts to build a culture of expectation.  This is ridiculous.  This is how disease spreads.  Stay home and come back when you’re well. No one will thank you for getting them sick.

The tweet also got me thinking about how education unions have fought to keep our paid sick time and how much I appreciate it when I am ill.  A few years ago I had to take an extended medical leave and as guilty as I felt, it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my students. I had to work through the guilt.  If we didn’t have the benefits that we do, I might have had to quit the profession altogether.

I’ve typed lesson plans in between bouts of nausea.  I’ve sent plans from my phone in a hospital waiting room. At the end of the day, it was worth it to take the time to get better for me, for my colleagues and ultimately for my students.



4 thoughts on “Illness, Shame and the Educator Martyr Complex

  1. Thanks for this excellent blog putting our place in time in perspective. Paid sick days should be a right as going to work without risking illness should also be a right.

    Be well,

    Deb Weston

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