If I were to hazard a guess, I would say teachers probably get sick more than almost any other profession out there. Oh, I’m not saying we get sick worse than, say, coal miners, or the guy that shovels out 100-year-old stables, but in terms of pure frequency, I’ll bet we’re up there. After all, we spend our day surrounded by hundreds of children. Sweet, innocent, children. Filthy, disease-carrying children. Children who instinctively steer towards paddles and mud. Children who think nothing of petting or picking up wild animals that have been rolling around in God knows what. Children who, if they could, would reserve bathing for special occasions, such as Halley’s Comet. Children are like a commuter train for germs. Headaches, sore throats, runny noses? For teachers, these just come with the territory.
Now for the kids, it’s not that big a deal. They’re young, their immune systems are strong and — here I agree with the late George Carlin — the more germs they encounter today the stronger their antibodies will be tomorrow. For we adults, however, it’s different. We’ve peaked. The SWAT members of our personal White Corpuscle Corps have either fallen in action or are running low on ammo. Plus, for many teachers, the immune system has been weakened by the years of alcohol abuse that some students have been known to drive them to.
So what can we, the Teachers of America, do to protect ourselves? Not a whole hell of a lot, actually. These kids come in the room every morning and cover every square inch of our classrooms with the bacterial equivalent of Al-Qaeda. then the bell rings and they go on to do the same in their next classroom, while the students for second period file into our rooms carrying not only the bacteria they brought with them that day, but also the bacteria from every other student in their first class and every student they rode with on the bus, every student they smoked with in the bathroom, etc. Kids pass germs back and forth like they were Pokemon cards (this is assuming kids still play with Pokemon cards, I don’t really know). If one kid in class gets the chicken pox at just the right time, the teacher can look forward to a two-week vacation. This, of course, has its downside. The minute some terrorist realizes the airborne pathogen distribution potential of a 10th-grade cheerleader, we’re sunk.
Oh, there are someprecautions we could take. Hosing down each student with antiseptic foam as they enter the building is my favorite, but it’s also impractical. At least, that’s what the school board keeps telling me. So is outfitting each teacher with a haz-mat suit. So we’re reduced to more conventional weapons — bows and arrows against viral guided missiles. Baby wipes and anti-bacterial gel are good things to have, but you’ve got to be careful. Kids love using up such supplies. A 240-count box of tissues will be used up in the course of a week, and a 32-ounce bottle of Germ-X will be lucky to make it through to lunch if its existence becomes public knowledge. (If your Band-Aids have Spongebob on them, just wait and see how many phantom cuts arise.)
Teachers have the most important job in the world; I believed that even before I became one. And our constant exposure to disease is just one of the facets that also makes it one of the most thankless jobs. so parents, the next time you want to show your appreciation to your child’s teacher, don’t send her an apple. Send Sudafed. Trust me, in the long run it will mean a lot more.