By Andrew Hawk
Being a teacher comes with several occupational hazards. One of these hazards is the exposure to infectious diseases. It’s not just that children take part in a variety of habits that spread germs, it’s that schools put a large group of people together in close proximity to one another. Prior to student teaching, a professor told my class to be prepared to be sick while our immune systems adapted to all the new germs to which we would be exposed. This professor stated that our first year of teaching would be even worse. I had already worked as a teaching assistant for six years, so I thought I was safe. I was wrong. During my first year of teaching, I contracted a cold that lasted from January to the end of March.
The flu is the one contagious ailment teachers fear most. My worst experience was during the swine flu outbreak in 2010, when, for nearly a week, only 8 of my 25 students attended school (though I did not get sick). Just last year, a teacher at my current school had 16 students absent simultaneously due to the flu.
Here are some tips that can help you survive this year’s flu season.
Get a flu shot. As with religion and politics, I have learned not to debate with people about the flu shot. Many people buy into the idea that the shot can give you the flu. I can only tell you that I get one every year and have never contracted the flu from the shot. I hope you will consider getting a flu shot.
Distribute your school’s policy. At my school, a student is not allowed to return to school if he or she has regurgitated within 24 hours. I have heard of parents arguing with the nurse and office staff that their child felt fine the day after being sent home for puking. These policies are in place to try to prevent a wide-scale outbreak of illness. Make sure parents are aware of the policy in place at your school so no one is caught off guard. I like to also mention this in parent-teacher conferences in case parents miss the form that is sent home.
Teach proper sickness procedures. Deciding whether a child is too sick to attend school can be difficult for parents. Most schools do not send children home unless they regurgitate or are running a fever over 100 degrees. Every year, teachers will have students that fall into the gray area of feeling bad but not bad enough to go home. Teach basic procedures at the beginning of the year to help limit the spread of germs. Include proper handwashing and how to cover your mouth when you cough. The school nurse at my first school visited classrooms and taught a lesson on handwashing. She told adults and children to sing the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” two times in your head to ensure that you wash for the recommended two minutes. In addition, always correct students when they cough into their hands. Unless you wash your hands immediately after coughing, coughing into your hands only works to spread germs. Coughing into your elbow is a better alternative. I also keep a large bottle of hand sanitizer next to my tissues and encourage students to use some after they blow their noses.
Wipe down your room. Be sure to put sanitation wipes on your school list. During flu season, your room should be wiped down regularly. I recommend having students help with this at the end of the day at least once a week. I tell my class to wipe down all the places hands are most likely to touch. Don’t forget to have your helpers wipe down classroom pencils and pens.
Take vitamins. My mother is a dietician. From a young age, I was taught the impact of proper nutrition on building and maintaining the immune system. On my mother’s recommendation, I take a multivitamin and 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily. It is also helpful to eat fresh fruit and raw vegetables.
Get enough rest. Between home life and classroom preparation, it can seem that there are not enough minutes in the day. Still, getting eight hours of sleep contributes to your overall wellness both physically and mentally. If you find you are having trouble finding enough time in the day to get eight hours of sleep, examine your daily schedule and see if there are ways you can save time.
Don’t be a hero. It is painstaking preparing for a substitute. Oftentimes I hear colleagues commenting that they come to work sick because it is easier than missing. In addition, many teachers would rather deliver instruction themselves instead of relying on a substitute. However, rest and fluids at the onset of a cold or flu can shorten your recovery time. During my long illness my first year of teaching, I did not miss a single day. While I thought I was doing what was best at the time, now I wonder if I would have recovered faster had I taken a couple days off in the beginning.
If you get sick, get a prescription for Tamiflu. Last school year, I contracted the flu in early September. This was prior to the beginning of flu season, and I had not had my flu shot because they were not yet in stock at my doctor’s office. In the past, I have not visited the doctor due to flu symptoms, but in this instance I was feeling so ill that I was not sure I even had the flu. My doctor tested me for strep throat, mono, and the flu. Based on these tests, she diagnosed me with influenza A (H3N2). She wrote me a prescription for something called Tamiflu. I had heard of Tamiflu but didn’t really know any details about it. I filled the prescription and was feeling better just an hour after taking the first dose. I returned to my classroom after only one more day of rest.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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