Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sick Days

Sick days aren’t like snow days. You don’t have to shovel snow, but you wish you could.

Sick days aren’t like mental health days. There’s no need to feel guilty. (Even though I usually achieve this anyway. Read on…)

Sick days are included as benefits in my professional contract. I often suspect I have more of them available than do members of some other professions. Can firefighters take sick days? Can troops stationed in faraway places take them?

Sick days can be spent wondering what’s going on in the location where you would have been. And hoping all the furniture is in the same place when you return.

Sick days can feature a lot of looking out the window and wishing you felt right enough to go out and play. Unless you live in the part of the US where I do, at the time which is now, in which case, you’re not so disappointed. Brrr.


Sick days, for me, are often a challenge for one other reason. One of my high school teachers, it was rumored, had taken only as many sick days in his multiple-decade career as most people have fingers. He was just that kind of person – neither snow nor sleet nor rain, nor pain, nor sprain, nor migraine, nor anythang (it almost rhymed), would keep him from his appointed rounds. Classical Studies Must Be Taught! More importantly, he felt he owed it to his students – his kids! – to be there for them.

Professore, we used to say … that’s very sweet of you, and we’re that much more inspired to do our homework assiduously! … but you look … like you feel … like poop.

That was part of an actual conversation in an actual class, one day during my junior year of high school. (Not the word “poop”.) The man walked into class, and a pack of high school kids – whose spheres of awareness had only recently grown to a size bigger than their own heads – took one look at him and said, “Professore, what’s wrong??”

Oh, I’ve just got a little temperature,” he said, and looked at us lovingly with a pair of the glassiest eyes we’d ever seen. “I’ll be fine! Let’s start.” And at least a quarter of the room replied, “Professore. Go. Home. To. Bed.”

Later, one of my classmates said, “he always looks at us at the beginning of class, and says, ‘Morning, scholars! Are you doing all right? You look so tired, gang!’ But today, he earned all that sympathy back from us in one shot. He looked like he was going to die.”

He did have the flu, as it turned out. (Several years ago, I had the flu for a week, and came in to school one day during that stretch because, well, the rock/blues band had a gig at a music fundraiser that night, and because obviously. I remember the gig … just not a lot of what happened during. And that was rock ‘n’ roll, not the works of Cicero.)

Sounds like an extreme case; and it was. Sounds like a tall tale … and it wasn’t. Somehow he taught that day. His classes probably listened extra hard, just out of feeling his pain! … but during that whole class, we all had a little voice in the back of our heads saying, “that poor man … that poor man … that poor man …”

So when I take a sick day, and it’s a genuinely sick boy taking it … I still feel just a little twinge of “we are not worthy”. (This particular school year, I’ve taken more sick days than I’m used to taking. November, as has been chronicled hereabouts, sotto voce!, was particularly awful.) I’ve been working on that. I may be working on it until I retire, or expire. Sometimes, yes, you’ve got to take a mental health day. But on balance, my job actually contributes to my mental health. I have taken those kinds of days, but happily not often.

Anyway, beyond Medieval Lit, and translating Latin, and all … one of the other things I learned from Il Professore was, dig in and do the work. He didn’t tell us … in a more effective and lasting lesson than that, he showed us. So I’ve got a standard to shoot for. An absurdly high standard, but … as the Argus poster saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still end up among the stars.

Every day, in every way, getting better and better …


March 23, 2013 - Posted by | education, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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