Almost all teachers cherish the illusion that they are indispensable. We typically insist in going into work despite being acutely infectious or damn near useless through illness. And whilst we all tell our colleagues not to be so daft and that they must go home, we rarely take our own advice.
On the occasions that we are unavoidably off, we stress about what is happening in our absence. Of course our classes will all run riot and will learn nothing, our personal special whiteboard markers will be stolen by colleagues, we’ll never see our answer books again and the pile of admin on our desks will spontaneously combust and burn the school down. Oh, and we’ll probably find we have volunteered to do several things in our absence.
You may have gathered from this that I am off work today – managed to do my back in this morning and can hardly move. I am doped up to the eyeballs on assorted painkillers and so I will apologise now if I stop making any sort of sense.
I am still doing some schoolwork. There was a letter to be checked, more UCAS Personal Statements have landed in my inbox, there’s some more statistics to be
massaged presented in an unbiased way, I’ve got yet another ex-pupil emailing for advice, and then there’s next week’s activity for Engineering Club to plan. Nonetheless, I feel guilty. No matter that I physically couldn’t stand in front of a class at the moment, I feel I have let them all down. I’ll have to get in tomorrow if I have to be carried in (would probably require a crane to do the lifting in my case) as it starts getting hard setting work remotely after a class has had the first lesson without you – you don’t know where they’ve got to or whether they understood it.
Setting work for absence is always an interesting exercise anyway. The cardinal rule is: “Thou shalt not cause inconvenience to the colleague doing the cover lesson”. That means you set ten times as much work as you think they will actually get through so they don’t run out. You also make sure it can be done in silence (or very close), and without intervention from the covering teacher – so no group work, discussions, making posters or similar. A video is OK, but there aren’t many of them on indices and standard form, alas. I have a personal additional rule for my own benefit – which is not setting things that will entail my doing ten tons of marking – make it something they can check themselves. The last thing you want on getting back is to have an extra pile of books on top of the paperwork that has landed on your desk in your absence.
Then you worry about whether they’ve absorbed what they’ve done while you were away. In my experience, there are two possibilities: (1) they understand it all much better than if you’d actually taught it to them. (2) they claim never to have done it at all when you happen to mention that topic later. Because of our wish to be indispensable, (1) can be actually rather more dispiriting than (2)!
Back to those Personal Statements now, before the co-codamol /ibuprofen cocktail wears off!