Too Sick to Teach… But I’m Not Exactly Sick Enough to Stay Home, Either!

What can we do on those days that it’s not quite bad enough to stay home, and it’s too much work or it’s too late to get a sub for your classes?

Well, every successful teacher needs a small arsenal of stuff ready to use for those days that the cough medicine is making you loopy and all the water you’re drinking to try to clear out your congestion is forcing you to the bathroom every 15 minutes.

First of all, it’s definitely OK to admit your weakness to your students!

Go ahead! Let ’em see that (gasp!) you’re like an actual person!!!

What to say to your kids on a day like this:

“Hey, guys… I’m not feeling well today but I needed to be here anyway. My head hurts and it doesn’t feel good to talk a lot right now. I love this class, and it would really, really help my head if you would stay quiet for me today and listen very closely as I explain what we’re about to do. We’re going to do something a little different since I don’t feel that good. Ok, here’s what we’re doing…”

So ARE you going to be doing something different?

ARE you going to deviate from those kick-ass lesson plans for today?

Yeah. You are. If you try to fake it all day, you’ll only make yourself even sicker and then you’ll have to miss the next day to recover. I’m sooo not missing a perfectly good “mental health” day to actually be sick at home.

Just sayin’.

Unless I’m throwing up (and other horrible, disgusting things) which does happen once in a while.

Ok. So yeah, you’re going to deviate from your regularly scheduled lesson plans.

Now, you may have a totally cool, laid-back school culture where no one cares if you change things up a bit (or a lot) because you’re just trying to make it through the day. But if you do happen to work in one of those “It’s on the plans you turned in a week ago so it must be happening in the class” or “Why aren’t you doing exactly what the other 6th grade Language Arts teachers are doing on the exact same day?” type of situations, then here’s something to help you out:

What to say to your principal if he/she happens to be the kind of person to freak out if you deviate from your lesson plans:

“I woke up not feeling well today and it was really too late to get

a sub, so I’m here and I’m determined to make it through the day.

Just so you know, I’m going to deviate a bit from what I had

originally planned so I don’t have to use my voice very much.

I plan to be back on schedule tomorrow.”

In fact, just copy and paste the above statements and in addition to emailing your principal the morning of, just print it out and tape it to the outside of your door. 

  • That way everyone knows you don’t feel too good
  • No one (important like a principal or a random central admin person) will even enter your room
  • Your students will enter with compassion and understanding (Ok! Some really will!!)
  • Co-workers will totally steal the idea and use it themselves when they eventually feel sick

It’s a win-win situation.

It feels great to have a plan in place for when days like that arise (inevitably).

So… What can you actually, really do in class so that you can save your voice, enjoy the cough medicine high, and float on clouds through the rest of the day until you can actually get back home and rest up?


Well, how about these ideas:

  • Show the 2004 movie Radio with Cuba Gooding, Jr. It’s PG. It’ll take nearly 2 hours, and it provides awesome, deep material for writing, discussions, etc.
  • That movie The Blind Side has equally incredible writing and discussion opportunities perfect for 6th graders.
  • Besides movies, there are other things to do as well. Do you happen to use Remind 101? I use it, and instead of sending my kids a reminder message to remember their library books, why not send a morning message telling them to bring a flashlight and a book to school? Go back in time (so to speak) and have a “sustained silent reading” day where the kids can get down on the floor and they read by flashlight!
  • Or just do a “normal” reading day (silent reading).
  • Another idea is to have the students work with a partner or in a small group to create a comic strip that tells a story of some kind AND that has the little characters in the cartoon use, say, any 12 vocabulary terms (with context clues, of course!) in their dialogue.
  • Or try this if you don’t want your students working in groups: Give each student a piece of plain white typing paper and have them draw / sketch / color a scene that represents three different things they’ve read that year. Yes, all on the same paper. The trick is that some how, some way, the three things the student chooses to draw must all be thematically linked. On the back of the page, students can explain the theme and how all three reading selections relate to that theme. 
  • If you have time, pull out a worksheet of some sort related to a concept you’ve been studying recently. Tell the students it’s an “open-book” or “open-notes” quiz. So they have to stay quiet, focused, and I’m telling you.. You give them a worksheet and tell them to please be quiet and it’s like, yeah right. But you give them that same worksheet and tell them it’s a quiz– BUT!!! It’s an open-book or open-notes quiz, YES! It totally works. Just make sure it’s long enough to take most of the class period.


Ok, so some of these ideas mentioned above are obviously more simplistic than others. And it really depends on your students as far as which one is the most appropriate.

Like I could assign the “draw three scenes thematically related” one to my 2nd block class and they’d do it with no problem. But if I gave that same assignment to another class, it would never work. It would be a full-on teaching day and I’d make myself sick.

Take those things into consideration, and let’s start chatting here about what YOU do when you just can’t follow the plans on those days that are “sick” but not “contagious” sick and you still have to be at work.

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