Help! My School Lets Sick Kids Attend Class

Dear We Are Teachers,

Our sick policy for students changed this year. It used to say students had to be fever-free for 24 hours in order to return, but this year it says students can come back whenever symptoms have improved. A shock to no one, my colleagues and I (elementary teachers) have been sick the majority of this school year. It’s normal for half or more of our classes to be out. AND our admin has the gall to complain about teachers being out too often! Is there anything we can do to fix this short of just leaving? 


Dear S.O.B.S.,

Oof. I’m surprised your admin hasn’t already reversed this decision. I would imagine it impacts virtually all of your campus negatively—students, parents, your nurse, your cleaning staff. Who does this decision help, apart from working parents of sick kids? And even then, is it really helping them long-term?

I would have a conversation with your principal. Explain that the huge uptick in sick kids is having a negative impact on your professional environment as well as your home life. Ask directly whether they plan to keep the sick policy for next year.

“I love our school and working here. However, this year has felt very different. The huge uptick in illnesses this year is having a negative impact on my work and health. Plus, my family is constantly sick from what I bring home. I understand and respect that you have to make tough decisions as a leader. Can you tell me if you plan on keeping the sick policy the same for next year? It will help me as I plan in making career decisions that are best for me and my family.”

If they say yes, hit the road. No school is worth sacrificing your health.

However, if you want to try overturning the decision, encourage parents to organize. Nothing moves a school to change course faster than angry parents.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I’m in my first year teaching 2nd grade, and it’s been a struggle between classroom management, a tough partner teacher, and some scary parents. Recently, I was at a conference with a group of teachers, administrators, and “big brass” from our district. One night, we all went out to eat together and my principal’s boss asked me how my school year was going. I ended up bursting into tears and talking to her long after dinner about what I’m struggling with. She was very understanding and assured me that she would try to make things better. When I got back to campus, my principal confronted me in my room. She was clearly upset and said she would have appreciated it if I’d told her what I was struggling with before going over her head. I feel sick that I’ve made my principal mad because I don’t think she did anything wrong! How do I fix this?

—I am in people-pleaser hell

Dear I.A.I.P.P.H.,

First, pretend I’m giving you a hug. Now pretend I am pushing you away from me but still holding your shoulders, looking you in the eyes, and saying, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Your principal was embarrassed, reacted childishly, and put you in an unfair spot. She should have taken her L and recognized her responsibility in not having better support systems in place that would recognize and care for a struggling teacher (even if it’s really, really hard for principals to do that well).

My guess—based on the absolute madness principals have to deal with weekly—is that your principal has already forgotten this ever happened. You’ll both shake it off and move on.

But in the event that she doesn’t forget this and is petty, be prepared to document and report retaliatory behavior.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach 3rd grade in a small town (which is a whole vibe all its own, BTW). In the afternoons I coach basketball at the high school. One of my players confided in me that she’s pregnant and terrified to tell her mom, who is on my grade-level team. For the past month, I’ve been listening to her mom complain about how rebellious and distant her daughter is in the first half of my day, then her daughter complain about how judgmental and terrible her mom is in the second half of my day. I’ve been encouraging this student to tell her mom for the past month, but she refuses. Should I breach my student’s trust and tell her mom what I know?

—small-town teacher problems

Dear S.T.T.P.,

Whew. All of this is a lot. It’s a lot for your student and her mom. But it’s a lot for you too.

First, know that some states require teachers to report pregnancies (e.g., Pennsylvania). In other states, you can lose your license if you share health information like pregnancy to a student’s parent (e.g., New York). So find out where your state stands first.

But regardless of whether you’re forbidden or obligated to report your student’s pregnancy, you do have a duty of care to your student for her health. Frame it that way to her. Assure her that you’ll be there to support her no matter what, but you ultimately could lose your job if something happens to her and you didn’t report it—and a lot can happen if she’s not receiving prenatal care. That way, she can be the one to tell her mom, but she can start receiving care ASAP.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at

Dear We Are Teachers,

I’m a new 8th grade teacher struggling with classroom management. I know group punishments are ineffective, but what am I supposed to do when over half the class won’t stop talking and I can’t narrow it down to a few offenders? A parent criticized me for making the class write apology letters, and my principal said I can’t hold the class late or assign extra homework. I don’t get it. What’s the alternative?


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