Taking A Day – Is It Wrong?

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.



  1. Hey – don’t forget that “mental health days” are a great way to see what your classroom does when your gone… when all those “leadership skills” come into play!

    I have to be honest here and say that I do take these days off. We just finished our final deadline in YB – and I took the following day off.

    I spent time with my wife, had a great day, and came back the next day ready…

    Great post – as always.

  2. Are personal days and sick days interchangeable where you are? Because everywhere I’ve been, sick days are supposed to be for when you’re physically ill, but personal days are for any reason you like.

    I’d like to be able to take ‘professional leave’ (like we do for conferences or field trips) in order to work on grading (hello, research papers!) or study teaching books.

  3. I don’t think people really understand what a true need for a mental health day is until they are standing in a classroom on the verge of a crying jag or homicide.

    How long does one have to run herself in a mental grave until it starts to take effect on the body? Who hasn’t done that? Why do we have to wait until our bodies manifest physical symptoms before we give ourselves a rest?

    Sometimes I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at some of my colleagues’ “sick days,” but I’m not going to judge. I’m pretty good at running myself into the ground while wearing a brave face. I’m sure others do, too.

  4. Thanks for all the feedback. I am always a little hesitant about posting topics that are more teacher, than journalism. I think this one must have touched a chord to get so many responses.

  5. Agreed. Mental health is as important as physical health. When I feel irrationally angry, it’s a sign…mental health day!!

    But I also agree about the comment made, of working yourself into the ground, which is what I did this year. It’s almost more work to bring in a substitute, and my students already know (and wonder) whether I’m actually sick, or whether I’m taking the day off to get grading done in the computer room next door (I walk in every once in a while, to grab something…it freaks them out a bit, and they become very quiet and obedient 🙂

    We usually get spring break around the time same time as the last deadline for yearbook. 😀

  6. After having a bout of ulcers a few years back, 3 doctors told me I need to take more time for myself so I have been trying to schedule those days in my sub calendar. We get 10 days here to be absent for whatever we need to be absent for. I have over 100 days stored up and I will get little of that when I leave teaching so I don’t feel guilty of about my health days. I usually take 4 a year, one each quarter, to just rest. Sometimes I go to the Dr or dentist on those days.

    As for finishing the yearbook, for the first time ever, I missed our final deadline. We were one week, 3 days late. I came to work the next day.

    • Sorry to hear you missed your deadline. We were exactly one week late. But we got it done. I think that kids today are not as deadline focused as kids used to be. I think it comes from teachers being pressured to make sure 90-95% of their kids pass, so they allow more late work turned in and more re-do assignments. Plus, our test obsessed culture allows them as much time as they want in my state to take the test and they get to retake it up to four times before graduation to pass it. This does not lead to them seeing deadlines as very serious.

  7. Great post and great comments. First, I’d like to address the comments on yearbook deadlines. Our publishers’ rep and I have been talking about this issue for at least two years. It seems to be something of a generational thing. They do get the work done, just not on my timeline. We’ve been trying to come up with a way to accommodate that tendency and still meet publisher’s deadlines.

    As for the mental health day…I think we should be able to take mental health days. I was reading an article this morning about teacher pay. Though some economists disagree, the message seems to be that teachers aren’t paid any less than other professionals once our vacations and benefits packages are figured in. I don’t think they account for the extra hours that many teachers work, nor do they figure in adjunct duties that frequently demand the equivalent of another DAY of work during the week (i.e. yearbook advising, coaching, drama teachers, etc). Mental health days are justified and should be allowed and encouraged.

    I wish I had taken one once our book was finished. Now I’m sick and miserable. No, I didn’t take the day off today. It was the last day before vacation and I figured there wouldn’t be a sub for class. Now, what does that say?

  8. […] 9 – Taking A Day Off, Is It Wrong? […]

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