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I’m just barely getting over a cold as I write this post on this the day that my next batch of posts are due.  It’s my third (fourth?) cold of the year and it has me thinking a lot about the complex nexus (what I am sillily calling the “complexus”) between health and the classroom.


For starters, consider the problem of presenteeism in the classroom.  Presenteeism, or working while sick, only spreads sickness and keeps you sicker longer.  I speak from experience.  I am pretty sure I got this cold from my boss, the Dean, (who came to work while sick) and the last time I had a cold I am also pretty sure it lasted over two weeks because I insisted on continuing to come into the office.  This time I decided to just be home and be sick, except when it came to teaching my class.  Certainly we have a local culture that believes you should never ever ever cancel class and getting sick at the end of the week with a class on Monday gave me little time to work out a substitute teacher and lesson plan.  But I am also wondering to what extent teachers of writing, particularly perhaps more vulnerable populations like contingent faculty, are pressured to continue teaching when sick with something like a head cold.  I’m institutionally positioned in such a way that I could have missed my class (maybe should have missed it) but I’m curious about the climate in your local writing programs or your own experience as a teacher.  What are the implicit or explicit expectations for teaching when you have something like a head cold?


I guess it just struck me that while I felt it not just OK to cancel all my work meetings, but, in fact, good for my health and the health of others in my workplace. Something about the classroom setting felt too pressing.  The lack of time in a semester?  The fragile bond with students so early in the semester?  The uniqueness of my curriculum?  I’m not sure, but it got me thinking.


I’m also thinking about my own reactions when students are sick.  Our program has a strict attendance policy that we call predictive rather than prescriptive.  Based on our experience, students who miss a lot of class don’t pass.  All of my personal experience in the writing classroom affirms this as a general truth: what students learn they often learn in the classroom, through discussion and group work and writing practice—none of which is work easy to replace.  To what extent, then, am I fostering a culture of presenteeism?  To what extent do I have to, given the necessity of attendance to progress?


I’ve never really questioned my attendance policy before, but being completely sick of getting sick from sick people who are sick at work, I am ready to rethink it.  I imagine there must be a compromise that allows students to be absent when they’re down with a head cold (saving the health of everyone else), that allows that to be verified (and wow, a whole other issue that I wouldn’t believe a student, right?), and that then allows some way to make up the work that was missed.  Supplemental instruction, maybe?  Office hours? Writing Center?


It’s probably the cold meds, but I feel like I am being dense, like there’s an obvious solution that I just can’t see.  If you have it, please share it.  I’m really curious how people deal with presenteeism both as a worker and with their students.


About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.