Educators – Dealing With Illness (Either Your Own, Students’, Colleagues, Families’, Or Others’)

Illness, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, can lead to chaos. The ideas in this article address illness that is reasonably short-term vs. chronic, long-term illness or disability. Think in the category of headaches, colds, flu, recovering from surgery, a terrible rash, chicken pox, mumps, etc.

If you are the one who is sick:

  1. Take the time to heal. As a teacher, you often don’t give yourself the time you need to get better. Get better once and for all rather than having the illness drag on or recur with frequency.
  2. If your illness is persistent, find out why. Access professional help. There’s almost always a reason.
  3. Tell others what you need. If you are sick, tell other people what you need from them. If you’re at school and you have a sore throat, tell your students you’re feeling kind of crummy, so you’d sure appreciate it if they’d keep the noise down a little so you don’t have to speak quite as loudly.
  4. Let other people help you. You are often the “helper” because you’re the teacher and so it may be hard for you to ask for help. Remember, it feels good to help other people, so let them help you. Your family, friends, colleagues, and students want to help you, just like you have helped them so many times.
  5. Avoid going back to work and resuming all your regular activities sooner than is warranted. Believe it or not, the world can keep operating without your presence. Sometimes it takes being sick to help us realize that fact.

Now, when someone else is sick, here are sensible ways to be thoughtful:

  1. Know that the other person’s illness won’t last forever and he/she will remember your kindness. This is especially important to keep in mind if the other person is being “difficult.” Just remind yourself that it’s a temporary illness and extra ‘burden’ (at least you hope so!)
  2. Cut the other person some “slack.” Most of us aren’t quite as patient or quite as friendly or gracious when we are sick as when we are well. If the sick person is acting uncharacteristically surly or difficult, give him/her the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if this is how this person always acts, then apparently, you’ve already made it clear that you will accept this type of behavior, so that’s a different issue!
  3. Treat others who are sick the way they want to be treated vs. the way you want to be treated. Some sick people want others fawning over them while some sick people want to be left alone. Find out what it is, then proceed accordingly.
  4. Take food to the family if the sick person doesn’t live in your house. It’s one of those seemingly “little” gestures that means a lot.
  5. Do everything you can to encourage the person to take the time he/she needs to get better. Resuming a full calendar means it will take longer to get back to normal than taking it a little bit slower. And, if the person is still contagious, for heaven’s sake, he/she must stay home and not get others sick, too.

No matter how healthy you are, there will be a time when you need to pay attention to the first 5…and unless you live in a cave, you surely know some people who are not feeling well, so consider the second 5 for their sake (and yours, really).

Schools and other educational institutions are places where folks get sick and then don’t stay home to get better–thus exposing everyone else to their germs. Be thoughtful of yourself and others. Get better and help others recover, too.