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Why That Teacher Teaching From the Hospital Isn't a Feel-Good Story

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Stephany Hume, a teacher and two-time cancer survivor, recently made the news after providing her students with virtual instruction from her hospital bed while recovering from surgery. While on a surface level this may seem inspirational, the truth is this isn’t healthy for her or her students and it is indicative of the brokenness that exists in both our education and health care systems.

As a public school employee myself, I cannot begin to count the amount of times my colleagues have come in to work, clearly not feeling well, and when asked if they needed to go home, responded, “It’s more work to get everything for a sub than to just push through.” In fact, this is such a common occurrence that it has become a half-joking tagline: “Teaching: the only profession in which it takes more work to take a day off than to go in sick.”

Now, under normal circumstances, even educators are forced to take a day off when they’re in the hospital. With COVID-19 and virtual instruction, however, this unhealthy pattern has the potential to reach a new extreme, as we see with Hume. When you’re teaching virtually, it doesn’t matter if you’re bed-ridden or contagious or in the hospital: if you have a computer with you, you can teach. As I type this, I think of how even I sent a text to my boyfriend the other day, explaining that I wasn’t feeling well and saying, “I really need to take the rest of the day off but I can’t because there’s no one else to run the [class] meeting and I’m trying not to cry and I’m not ready.”

All of this said, let’s talk about how this isn’t healthy for teachers or for students. If we stop to think about it for a moment, we can recognize that teachers need time to heal, just like everyone else. Likewise, their students will become adults who need to know it’s OK to take a day off to heal or even just take a break sometimes. As with every choice we make as educators, we are teaching our students something: In this case, we are teaching them that it’s OK to keep working no matter how sick we are, even to the point of if we are in the hospital.

Now, this isn’t to fault Hume herself, and we don’t know her situation and can’t assume her motivations. But many teachers find themselves in an incredibly difficult situation. Teachers likely have very little paid time off for sick leave (personally, I get five days a year, which isn’t near enough to truly care for my chronic illnesses) and health insurance is most likely tied to her employment.

Additionally, health care, particularly hospitalizations, is extremely expensive, and teachers are often concerned about how to afford it all if they run out of paid leave. This is the fault of a broken system that forces educators to choose between taking care of themselves or making sure their students have what they need to be successful, and that teaches students it’s normal and acceptable to never take time to rest.

Hume teaching from her hospital bed isn’t a feel-good story, but instead it’s really rather tragic. What type of dystopian society have we become that one of our most foundational and valuable professions makes employees feel forced to work from a hospital bed, and that the response is not one of outrage, but of support?

Header image screenshot via NBC/DFW

Originally published: November 19, 2020
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