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Germs! Germs! Go Away!

How do you avoid getting sick when you're surrounded by germs?


By Mary Ellen Flannery

All those lovely children . . . they don’t call them snots for no reason! Snot, mucus, call it what you like, but know that your students are full of it. With this new job, it’s likely you’ll be exposed to all manner of common cold and flu. But you don’t have to get sick. Eat healthy, sleep late on weekends, and take the advice of veteran (and immune-superior!) colleagues:

Wash Your Hands! Yes, yes, you’ve heard it before—but that’s because it’s the best thing you can do to keep healthy. The Mayo Clinic points out it’s especially critical to wash your hands before lunch, after using the bathroom or blowing your nose, and before handling your contact lenses. We would point out that it’s also a good idea after a kindergartener cries all over your woolly shoulder. First wet your hands, then lather and rub for at least 20 seconds—or the time it takes to sing the alphabet song.

My Pencil, Your Pencil. While your students are busily solving quadratic equations, you’re walking between desks, surveying their work. What’s this? A mistake? Stop! Do not pick up their pencil! Julie Adolphson, a high school teacher in Lansing, Michigan, carries her own pencil in a pocket or clipboard – and she grabs that to make notes on a student’s paper. “When you are helping a student, use your own pencil,” she urges.

Calling Mr. Clean! Clean desks every day – and don’t stop there. Wipe down anything the kids touch, including door handles and computer keyboards, but especially areas that could be warm or moist. That definitely includes classroom sinks and water fountains. (One disturbing fact: a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) study found 10 times as many bacteria on a school cafeteria tray than a school toilet seat. Yuck!) Keep in mind: your building’s custodians can be great partners.

Pills and Potions. Vitamin C! No, it’s D! No, the best thing is kombucha tea! In any faculty lounge you’ll hear about all kinds of unproven preventatives that teachers swear by. At the top of the list is Airborne, a vitamin supplement invented by a former NEA member. Echinacea also is popular, as is zinc. Judy Weigand Day, a retired Kansas teacher, takes elderberry concentrate every day. But Rebecca Mainiero, a New Jersey third-grade teacher, offers her own recipe for good health: Mix one teaspoon of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and one teaspoon of honey in a glass of water. “You will not get sick!” she promises.

No, That's Not a Tea Pot . . . The hippie-dippy nasal irrigator has gone mainstream in a big way. Hello! Oprah uses one! The neti pot looks a little like a genie bottle, but it promises all-natural magic. Daily users pour warm salt water into one nostril and out the other, and they swear it helps with chronic allergies and sinus infections. Says Lisa Floading, a Wisconsin high school teacher: “I swear by the neti pot!”

Chicken Soup and Lesson Plans. Did everything right—and got sick anyway? Oh, dear. Drink plenty of fluids and rest up. Do not come back to school sick! Your colleagues—and students’ parents—won’t appreciate it. But one thing you can do to make them miss you less (just kidding! they miss you!) is make sure you have a great substitute for your kids (for tips on preparing for a substitute, click here). Andy Holleman, an Anchorage, Alaska, middle school technology coordinator, suggests getting to know the retired teachers in your school community. In your absence, they’ll be able to step right in and keep the kids learning.

Advocate, Advocate! With your Association’s help, you can be an advocate for school policies and practices that promote health. Consider air quality in your building. Sick buildings equal sick people. And one in four schools report inadequate ventilation! Also, take a look at a California Teachers Association web site that includes information on how to advocate for healthy policies and practices, such as recess and school lunch programs.


Illustrations for this page by Mark Brewer

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