1:00 PM EST, November 21, 2012
As the husband of a teacher and brother-in-law of two other teachers, I have to say Dan Rodricks' recent column ("This looks a lot like playing hooky," Nov. 13) about teacher absences is missing a big chunk of the story. The fact is the only time off teachers have available to them during the school year are sick days and two or three personal days. They don't get three weeks or more of paid vacation like a lot of people do in their jobs. This is the only time available to them.
Teachers are going to get sick despite their best efforts to stay as healthy as possible. As Mr. Rodricks mentions, schools are petri dishes of germs brought in by both kids with poor hygiene and those who should be home sick but whose parents may not have someone to watch over them.
In addition, sometimes teachers have to take sick days to be at home with their own sick children or take them to see the doctor. Teachers know best when a child should stay home or not and feel a great deal of responsibility to not infect their fellow teachers by sending their own kids in when they shouldn't. Is the percentage of sick days also skewed by the fact that when taking maternity leave, women workers are first required to use their sick days? In a profession that I am guessing is at least 75 percent women, that's another factor driving the percentage up.
Another reason for teachers to take a sick day is for things like their own parent-teacher conferences or for school-related activities involving their children. For me, I can just tell my boss that I'm going to take a long lunch today or I'll be in late this morning to go to a conference, and that is either fine with my boss or maybe I stay a little late tonight to make up for that time missed. Not for teachers. That is not a possibility. They are required to take a half-day to make that meeting or see the school play or that important presentation their child is giving to their entire grade.
I will say there are times when teachers do take a "hooky" day. A great family trip comes up that can only happen during the school year, or maybe a day to get Christmas shopping done are just two examples. I will also say, however, that I think most teachers don't take these days off lightly. A teacher who is going to miss a day of school is responsible for creating substitution plans for the teacher or substitute who will be filling in. When you are a reading specialist like my wife who works with many different groups during the day, that means that she's making up to 12 different substitute plans for the many different group of kids she works with.
Finally, I'll say that I know a good amount of your readers are going to say, "Boo-hoo! Teachers get their whole summer off and only need to work approximately 195 days per year." Remember, teachers only get paid for ten months of work per year, have immense amounts of work to complete each day and little time for lunch. I'm sure there are teachers abusing the "sick day" policy, but aren't there plenty of people in other jobs taking "sick days" to get in a round of golf, go to the movies, or just take a mental health day? I'll let you think about that one.
Ryan James, Catonsville
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