I spent much of the day in pain today – waiting for the dentist and then waiting for my pain meds at the pharmacy. But while I was doing all this waiting, I had several podcasts on my iPod and I was listening to them. A topic that inadvertently came up during a discussion about Twitter was “mental health days.”
For those who may not be teachers (students, pre-service educators, parents, etc.), a “mental health day” is when a teacher takes a day off from teaching when they are not sick.
There are many schools of thought about mental health days. First, are there educators who abuse their sick days and take off on nearly every Friday? Sure there are a number of teachers who are counting the days until retirement and take off a large number of Fridays.
Second, are there some younger educators who have not yet figured out that they are no longer in college and find Monday mornings too hard to deal with? Sure that exists too.
But I also believe that there are a number of teachers who genuinely need a day off now and then to recover their mental health. I know that there are administrators who will disagree with me and say that the students are short changed every time we do take off a day. But that is a dodge for them. They need to hire better substitute teachers, provide them with more training and tools for discipline problems.
My state gives every teacher five days each year for personal or family illness or emergency. We also get another five days from my district. The unused days are also carried over each year. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years and have a large number of days built up.
I know my district will “buy back” a number of days when if I retire. But they will only by back district days. If I were to change districts, I can only keep state days. This is confusing and unfair. It encourages me to use district days now, but state days after I pass the half-way point in my career.
It also encourages older, experienced teachers nearing retirement to use it or lose it. Both the state and the districts should consider rewarding teachers for unused days. They should also allow for sick-day banks. Too many districts/states don’t allow employees to contribute days to colleagues who are sick or face long leaves due to pregnancy. Too many young, female teachers end up working for free or reduced pay because their maternity leaves exceed the number of days they have stored. (An average 3-month maternity leave would equal 60 days.) Few teachers under 30 have that many days stored up.
But back to mental health days – any yearbook teacher will tell you that they need a week off after the yearbook is done. Taking a mental health day is not out of the question.
Teachers who give it their all deserve to be able to use their personal days without being hassled by an administrator unless they are abusing those days. And teachers with 30 years of service should be given options to cash out days instead of being forced to miss class time or lose days they earned with many years of valuable service.
Should we shun those who abuse personal days? Yes, they reflect poorly on us all. But don’t feel bad if you just need to take a day to recover from the stresses we all feel from time to time. And don’t let anyone else make you feel bad either.