I managed to avoid the worst of flu season in December, despite having a small child in daycare where “personal space” has no meaning. While those around me were falling, I was pleased to have no sniffles, no sore throat, no earache – nothing. All through the holiday season, when I was off and had nothing but time (granted, it was time I used to chase a 3 year old around for 12 hours a day – G*d bless naps and early bedtimes).
College has been back in session for a whopping 3 days. And not fully in session at that. I’d estimate that about 80% of the students actually showed up in class this week at all. (Apparently, there’s a misconception that “syllabus week” is optional.) And sure enough…by Friday I was getting sick.
Pack 30+ students in a classroom and at least 20% of them are coughing and using tissues on their noses and touching everything! I’m not a germophobe by any stretch (refer back to 3 year old boy who has his mouth and hands on and in everything and thinks hand washing is a punishment), but ewwwwwww.
I blame faculty for this (including former me). We require attendance, we grade on attendance, we admonish when they don’t show up for class. And so they come, wagging their germs behind them. To excuse their absence, they must have a doctor’s note. Seriously? Do you go to the doctor every time you get a cold? I don’t. I avoid the doctor’s office like it’s ground zero for bubonic plague, going only when I am absolutely sure that death has knocked on my door. (No offense to my awesome nurse practitioner, Angela, who is a delight).
So why do we require this of students? By bringing their germs to class, they make other students (and professors) suffer. Why not treat them like the adults they are (supposed to be) becoming?
Well, I blame students too. Students are creative creatures. The excuses I’ve gotten for absences! Wow, some doozies. I once had a student give me a very elaborate and tear-filled excuse for having to miss an exam because her father died. It was a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking story. Of course, I excused her. So imagine my surprise when I met (you guessed it) her father at graduation. What a miraculous resurrection. Not.
So I tell my students: “Come, don’t come. It’s up to you.” There are consequences for not showing up (missing my scintillating commentary on the material is one, of course), but there are also consequences for stressing your body and mind when you’re sick. You be the judge of how sick is too sick to come to class. If you are throwing up, please don’t come. If you have a headache, maybe you need to suck it up.
I tell them they don’t need to tell me why they are out. I don’t need to hear that they are hungover or sleep through my class. Of course I care if they are sick, in the hospital, or have a death in the family. But unless I can help or they need a shoulder to cry on, they don’t need to tell me. They need to take care of themselves. I would rather foster the traits of honesty and critical self-management in them than…whatever giving strict rules on attendance garners.
Perhaps we (faculty) are also contributing to the work environment that gives workers the idea that they can’t take a sick day from work, either. Many people believe the company will surely fall apart without them (it won’t). But that’s a rant for another day.
Instead of going to bed, I’m off to catch a plane to attend a conference, cold germs and all. Well, I can’t miss it! They need me.
Carpe germ avoidance therapy.