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‘Days Off Just Aren’t an Option’: Why Teachers Don’t Use Their Sick Days

Teachers are more likely than professionals in similar jobs to show up to work, even when an absence is justified, according to the findings of a recent study.

The study pushed back on a trope—used increasingly in recent years—that educators frequently take time off. Instead, the study concluded that teachers generally ask for time off less frequently than professionals in similar jobs and have fewer paid leaves.

Education Week recently published an article outlining that study’s findings. Hundreds of teachers chimed in on social media about their experiences with taking (or trying to take) time away from the classroom.

Many teachers who weighed in said it’s simply too much work to prepare for an absence or try to catch up when they return. Here’s a roundup of their thoughts.

It’s more work to take time off

“If we want to take a day off we have to rewrite lesson plans for subs, which is easily a two hour endeavor. It’s not worth it.”

— Paula S.

“Uh…teachers tend to take off far LESS than other professions because it’s more work for us to plan for a sub than to just go teach sick. I definitely called in far more at my office job than I do now that I am a teacher.”

— Erin M.

“Lately, we don’t have subs available. So staying home means we have to split our kids up and burden our coworkers.”

— Crystal J.

“I can count on one hand the number of times I have missed work in the last ten years. I didn’t even miss when I had COVID. I didn’t feel bad at all so I stayed home and taught my classes virtually. It’s easier to be at school in my classes than it is to plan for a sub.”

— Cynthia M.

“Using a sick day takes hours of preparation. Upon returning to the classroom, there are hours of extra work to deal with what happened in your absence. Much easier to come in and teach!”

— Michael W.

“I would rather rip out my fingernails one by one than have to make sub plans. It’s more work to be out for a day than to just power through and get it done.”

— Stephanie C.

Schedules aren’t flexible

“One has to remember that teaching is NOT flexible – I can’t come in late because of my dentist’s appointment and then make up the time at the end of the day. I can’t be feeling nauseated and think ‘I’ll go in and see how it goes; I can always leave early if I’m too sick’, or quickly run to the bathroom, throw up, and come back to my desk. I also can’t work from home because of an ankle injury!”

— Anne-Caroline D.

“I am constantly getting sick so I will take a sick day if I need it for my son. I do not take “mental health” days or days off to go on vacation- we have breaks for that.”

— Melissa B.

“Tell us something we don’t know. For the majority, it’s “if I can just make it till Friday I’ll have the weekend to get better.” Do others take advantage? Absolutely. And that happens with ALL jobs.”

— Kathryn R.

“It was more work to take a day off than to be there. Any teacher would tell you this. As a math teacher, I was afraid that a day without quality instruction would set my students behind and therefore reflect poorly on me. I had to be pretty sick to take off.”

— Deborah M.

Time off accumulates over the years

“25 years teaching. I have so many accumulated days off, I can take off an entire school year.”

— Carolvee B.

“Most teachers I know agree that it’s easier to go to work when you feel bad than make up lesson plans, get a sub, deal with admin. And do they count when a teacher gets a sub only to go home to catch up on grading, making parent phone calls, etc? When I retired after 32 [years] of teaching I had over 70 days of sick leave accrued. Would have had more, but at the end I tried to use some up.”

— Elizabeth H.

“In the 28 years I’ve been with my district, I’ve accumulated well over 200 days, about 280, I think. I missed the whole first semester last year, due to a heart attack, open heart surgery, and cardiac rehab, and I still have about 200 days left. That means that over the years, I’ve taken very few days off, because as a special education teacher, writing sub plans is a nightmare. Basically, a whole day plan for each kid, so I don’t do that unless I’m about three quarters dead. Which was literally what happened last year, although thankfully between the long term sub and my aide, I didn’t have to do much.”

— Rhonda C.

“When I changed counties three years ago, I cashed out a year and a half of leave, and transferred the rest. In 28 years, I had accumulated that much because writing sub plans for 4+levels of Latin is harder than going to school ill.

“Now that my classes are all hybrid or virtual (one completely in-person) and I have seven levels and six schools? Days off just aren’t an option.”

— Lori M.

“We received 10 sick days a year, accumulated. I taught [for] 35 years. I retired with 320 unpaid accumulated days. I could have called in sick and been paid for an extra two years. Working 80 to 90 hours a week, I think I’d have qualified for some variety of stress related illness.”

— Jane B.

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