top of page
  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

Sick of it

Updated: Apr 14

When I was a trainee teacher, I caught a nasty ear infection. I was a few weeks away from finishing my second placement, but rather than taking the time off my body needed, I kept working and pushed through.


Even though I was only a few months into my training year, I already had a deeply ingrained sense of ‘teacher guilt’. A feeling that I simply couldn’t let the kids down. To be totally honest, I think there was almost a smugness to how I soldiered on despite not being well. I wasn’t allowed to drive for two weeks and so my then-boyfriend drove me into school and picked me up each day.


I didn’t want to take time off in case it impacted how people at school saw me, impacted my classes, or would in some way reflect badly on me.


I permanently damaged my ear.


If I went back to that placement school today, I doubt anyone would remember me. It was a long time ago and life moves on, as do people. I alone remember that I was unwell and kept going in.


Only I have to deal with the consequences of my actions long-term.


I would have passed my placement anyway, most likely with the same grading, and I’d already secured a job for the next year. So why did I do it? What was the point?


This blog was written from bed after I’d been stuck in bed for fours days (two of them school days and one my BIRTHDAY!) with a particularly rubbish sinus infection. Since that first illness as a trainee 11 years ago, lots of things have changed; I’m a mum, a senior leader, and a much more experienced teacher…. These experiences and life events have taught me how to take care of and advocate for myself.


… but still, that teacher guilt is sitting just under the surface.


It’s a privilege and one of the best bits of my job to work with our ITT students, ECTs, and new middle leaders. I tell this story in our sessions each year so that they know how seriously I take their health and to make it clear that they don’t have to come in when they are unwell.


I don’t have any evidence for this beyond the literature around team building and leadership such as Sinek, Helgesen, and Goldfinch etc., but I think that the more we feel valued and part of a team, the less likely we are to be unwell anyway.


In a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, I think that how schools deal with absence could be one of the ways we make the profession more appealing. Friends I went to university with can’t believe the pressures teachers face while ill when I tell them what it’s like.


That isn't to say that schools shouldn't have absence policies and so on, but perhaps it is time to evaluate how fit for purpose the ones we work with are. I’ve worked in a school where absence was taboo. I’ve also worked in a school where people are seen as just that… people! They are supported, cared for, and treated with respect. I don’t need to tell you which had lower absence rate.


bottom of page