For three hours I have been hovering between my oil diffuser and my lap flooded with papers that need graded.
Last weekend I was diagnosed with the flu. I wasn’t surprised because our son had just recovered from it and, as a public school teacher, I am pretty much exposed to every disease ever, every single day.
After taking our son to the doctor and picking up his medicine from the pharmacy, we were tallied at a $50 co-pay, $90 in prescriptions, and an unknown amount in flu culture and other exam fees yet to be delivered by our insurance company. I knew the costs were high so I decided against the doctor at first, opting to rest, pump myself with fluids and natural remedies, drink herbal teas and take deep breaths from the diffuser.
Fast-forward six days later, I have missed three days of work and I can’t take it anymore.
Today I went to the doctor only to be told my flu complications had graduated to pneumonia. I happily accepted the option for 48 hours to attempt to treat at home in hopes of avoiding being admitted to the hospital. So that put me at another $40 co-pay, and over $50 more between my three prescriptions; I refused a steroid shot and codeine prescription cough syrup due to cost.
It is true that, like many middle class jobs, a teacher’s healthcare coverage has declined and our pay is less than comparable to the work we do each day. However, many hard-working folks from a variety of jobs could argue that.
This is more than that.
I write this for the 90 boxes of tissues and Clorox wipes I buy each trimester to stock my school because we are inner city and we don’t even hand out a supply list to our students. It is about the fact that literally every teacher in existence will testify that making substitute plans is 10 times harder than just going to work sick, but if we show up sick, then everyone complains that we are spreading germs.
It is about going to work sick because you feel guilty missing school because your kids need you, and it is the end of the trimester, and you had a field trip planned, and your students never get opportunities like this, and you already missed a day last week when your own child had the flu, and this is just a horrible time for you to be out.
It is about the fact that no one wants my germs at school, but yet they give me the side eye if I miss more than one day. Brace yourselves: I will have to miss an entire week, which I have never done before. I now have to supply a dated, signed, and sealed document including everything just shy of the doctor’s first born to prove that I do, indeed, have a threatening and contagious illness.
It is about the fact that, because it is the end of our trimester, I had to send my husband on a 30 minute drive to my school to pick up my computer and papers. I will sit here and continue to grade them, email all final exams to be given on Friday, and then go pick those exams back up so that I can grade everything and have them in by the deadline of next Tuesday, while everyone else is enjoying winter break, and–lest we forget–I have pneumonia.
See it is about much more than crappy insurance, even crappier pay, and making the choice not to seek medical care at first because of that.
It is about a thankless job that everyone (my[former]self, included) pokes fun at for having summers off and holiday breaks with the students. It is about the fact that I am doing my damnedest to ensure I don’t accrue a hospital stay from this, while I simultaneously have the heater on and the fan running because of my cold chills and sweats, but the only thing I was asked about when I called into work was how I would get my grades turned in on time.
This system is so beyond broken I am left without words.
So, I will blow my nose for the eleventieth billion time, cough into my elbow as I model to my own kids, cover myself to my chin in my diseased down comforter while the fan blows directly on my face beside a steady stream of essential oils, as I submit my grades, send in tests, have my husband drive all over creation to make sure things are delivered where and when on time, and of course turn in my Curriculum Maps (See: 11 pages per grade, per class-I teach 7, of nonsense in case a school is audited) because “someone” forgot to ask for them before now.
This is about serious inequality, which I teach against in my classroom every single day.
This is about more than you, internet troll who is about to leave a nasty comment about how I should just “suck it up” or “we all have problems”. No. The way I see it, this should be everyone’s problem. Because in my short time in the public school system, I have consistently seen incredible educators leaving the field, being pushed out by low wages, noncompetitive healthcare, and administration that care more about test scores and grade cards than the well-being of those they employ.
After all, if the ‘children are our future’, who is responsible for how they turn out? I am certain it will be the teachers who are blamed if students turn out poorly. But imagine if classrooms were lead by passionate, eager to teach professionals who were excited about their career and felt valued where they taught?
That, my friends, is a revolution that could change everything.