On Monday at lunch time, I bent down in the staff room kitchen to put some paper towel in the bin. On the way up, I bashed my head into the corner of a cupboard, right on my temple.
Wow, what an idiot.
Luckily it wasn’t hard enough to knock myself out or split the skin, but the pain was so intense tears jumped into my eyes. I went and sat down at my desk, vision a little blurry and feeling like such a dolt. I now had to explain to my colleagues this incredibly silly thing that I’d done. They teased me as much as I deserved, but one got an ice pack to put on the quickly-forming egg. I resisted, thinking it wasn’t that bad, but in the end I was very glad I did because it helped to keep the swelling down a little. So I spent the remainder of the lunch break with ice pressed to my head and trading war stories with the staff.
But here was the kicker – I had a year 8 class right after lunch, starting in just a few minutes. I had already planned a pretty independent lesson where students would be working through reading comprehensions and drawing a few diagrams as revision for an upcoming exam. I knew I could have asked for someone else to take the lesson, and in hindsight I probably should have, but I was embarrassed and just wanted to get on with the day.
So off to class I went, with the icepack in my hands ready to use when the pain got too bad. When we got into class I explained to the students what had happened, and requested kindness and just getting on with the work so I could rest my poor head. The students at our school are very good with things like this – they rally together and support those who are injured, and for the most part they just got on with their work. No one laughed at me, no one gave me odd looks while I was sitting at my desk with the icepack pressed to my head for the hour, no one was particularly poorly behaved. It was a good lesson in the end!
There were a few scary moments where I thought I was going to have to call for help. At one stage early in the lesson a student was asking for help with a question, and I was slurring my words answering her. My tongue just felt too big for my mouth, and it was a little hard to concentrate. I did my best though, and as soon as the student returned to their desk I put the ice pack back on my head and just rested, watching them work quietly. At another stage I was feeling quite dizzy and nauseous, but that could have been at least partially psychosomatic.
Luckily it was the last class of the day, so straight afterwards I went up to let the office know what had happened. I need to fill in an incident report, as you do with any workplace injury. I then drove straight home, talking on the phone (hands free of course!) to my husband and then my mum the whole way, as I knew I had a mild concussion.
Later that evening was the year 12 formal. I knew I probably shouldn’t go, but I had paid a lot of money for it and really wanted to celebrate with some of the first students I’d ever taught. In the end I was very glad I went – it was such a good time! I must have been running on adrenalin though, because as soon as I left (with a colleague very kindly driving me there and back!!) my head started pounding viciously.
All of the symptoms came crashing back as soon as I got home, so I showered and went straight to bed, knowing I would probably not be in at school the next day. It took me a long time to get to sleep because of the pain and nausea, and also because the egg on the side of my head meant I couldn’t sleep in my usual position.
I did wake up with the intention of going, I had an exam to set that day and a couple of experiments, but I just felt so awful and out of it that I knew I needed to rest.
It’s always a tricky situation deciding to stay home from school. There is so much work you need to do in the half hour or so before supervisions go out – you need to completely redesign your lessons for the day so that another teacher can take the class without issue. The union says that you don’t need to provide work when you are ill, just an indication of where the class are up to, but it is school policy to provide a full lessons (another very tricky situation). Most teachers will go to school when they are ill, because it is too much work to stay home. It is a completely stupid situation in my mind – if you are unfit for work, you shouldn’t be there, particularly when your work involves being in charge of up to 120 students throughout the day. Teaching is not a job you can do half-assed while being out of it with illness. I fully believe in self-care, so I do take time off when needed, even though it makes the morning incredibly stressful. I know if I take a day off when needed I can recover much faster and am usually back on my feet the next day. When I’ve been ill and soldiered through, I am working at a sub-par level for up to a week. So even with a pounding head and nausea still there I had to fill in the appropriate forms and redesign my lessons. Then I finally went back to sleep to rest my poor head.
Coming in to school today was like business as usual. My head is still a little tender, with the egg still there, but the show must go on!
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.