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Are you guilty....really??

A few weeks ago I shared with my email list that when I was a teacher, I went to work sick a lot. As someone with an autoimmune disease, I was rarely contagious, but I could never find a sub. I worked with deaf and hard of hearing students and subs were really intimidated by accepting jobs in a classroom where they couldn't communicate with the students directly.

If I had to be out, I always felt what I thought was "guilt." I couldn't take a physical or mental health day without feeling like a bad teacher that was letting down my students and my co-teacher.

What I was feeling was not actually guilt, so let's talk about what guilt is.

Emotions, in general, exist to give us information about what is happening in our world. For example, anger tells us that injustice is happening, sadness tells us we're experiencing a loss of some kind, and fear tells us we're in danger. So what does guilt tell us?

It tells us that we've done something wrong that we need to make amends for.

So let's think about my example:

Is being sick wrong? (Whether it's physical or mental.)

That's a resounding NO!

So what is that feeling I felt? That icky feeling in my stomach like I was doing something I was a bad person and teacher.

In the educational sector, we value perfect attendance. We give kids awards for it, and a teacher who comes every day is seen as stronger than a teacher who misses their allotted days per year (or more if they have a chronic illness). 

Why? Because finding substitutes is difficult and inconvenient AND because our curricula is packed so tight, missing a day can impact student performance on benchmark/curriculum assessments.

So the ultimate question is....Is the expectation of you never missing a day healthy or toxic? Let me's toxic.

And are the ramifications from toxic expectations your responsibility? NO!

  • There are many reasons why subs are hard to find, and none of those are your responsibility.
  • The inconvenience of you being absent is not your responsibility.
  • The fact that curricula have become so packed and standardized testing so highly valued is not your responsibility.

All of these are indictments on the educational system and systemic issues within it. (None of which are your personal responsibility.)

What you actually feel is FALSE guilt about not living up to unrealistic, perfectionistic ideals that plague our education system.

You may even feel shame, like there's something wrong with YOU because everyone else seems to be striving for and complying with those unrealistic, perfectionistic ideals. 



You are a precious, imperfect, and sometimes sick, human being! What you feel is not legitimate guilt, and you're not alone in feeling it. 

When those feelings wash over you, I want you to tell a trusted friend or relative, and I want you to tell them to say this, "You're allowed to be human and take a day off. You aren't responsible for systemic problems." Put a card on a mirror. Put it in your nightstand drawer. And then come tell us in the Teacher Care Network Support Group that you're having these feelings because we want to support you.

-Dr. Jen Johnson x


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