Alyssa wakes up with a runny nose, feeling chilled all over, and definitely not feeling well enough to get out of bed. But she has a test in two classes and a group project due in another, so what other choice does she have but to go to school? We’ve all been in that situation. We force ourselves to go to school because of the huge amount of work that we would miss if we stayed home. Sacrificing our health for our education has become a societal norm and is neither healthy nor smart.
This behavior is not just a problem for adults at work, however; it starts with kids in school. Physical and mental health are inherently interdependent for both young people and adults. Overworking ourselves to the point of exhaustion is not only very common, but deemed laudable; those who engage in it are characterized as hard-working and impressive.
It is true that we cannot stay home for every illness. If an illness is not contagious and there are minimal symptoms, it is likely safe to go to work. According to the National Poll on Children’s Health from the University of Michigan, parents cited being concerned about the illness getting worse if the child went to school (60 percent) and not wanting the child’s classmates to get sick (47 percent) as being very important factors in deciding to keep a sick child home from school. Parents also consider what the child may miss by staying home, however, with 37 percent stating that the child missing a test or falling behind in school is a very important factor as well.
While parents worried about their kids’ health, they still saw school work as a major factor in deciding whether or not to keep them home.
Even when their parents do not put pressure on them, many students, especially in high school, feel their own pressure to go to school sick in order to not miss class or assignments.
However, it is important for us to listen to our bodies and make sure not to overwork them. We know our own bodies better than anyone, and others should respect a decision to stay home for that reason.
Social norms in the workplace and at school dictate that you have to be on top of everything. As students, especially, we have to juggle so much that even missing one day can lead to the accumulation of an excessive amount of work to make up if we stay home. If a student has multiple hours of homework on the night he or she is sick, the next day, that doubles. That means the next day, he or she is that much more overworked and tired and still recovering from being sick.
Schools and society in general need to make it easier to put health first. Currently, if a student misses a test or an in-class writing assignment, he or she must make it up in a different classroom while missing the current day’s assignment or in a class full of loud students moving on with a new assignment. Or you have to come before or after school or skip nutrition or lunch to make up work.
Instead, teachers should be more flexible with the dates and times assignments can be made up after an absence. For instance, in some cases teachers have opted to replace grades with other work or give alternate assignments that can be made up later. We need teachers to be more sympathetic to students’ situations whether that be absences due to physical or mental illness, family problems, or doctors’ appointments. That would make it more feasible for students to stay home to take care of themselves.
Going to school or work mentally or physically ill can just worsen the issue and take a greater toll on our health in the long run. We deserve more sick days and must lessen the expectations on ourselves and others during times when we simply are not able to function well enough for our normal daily routine.