When people work in a Montessori infant or toddler program, employees don’t fully consider the likelihood of getting sick, and the school’s sick policy. Not all staff are aware of the “diseases of childhood”, whether or not they are entitled to PTO, or whether or not they are going to receive sub coverage. All of these things really start to matter when staff come down with illnesses.
Based on my personal experience, my heart especially goes out to the assistants. But getting sick from work is a very real risk for all of us. I feel that assistants in particular don’t seem to know how to recover as fast as possible from being sick than the seasoned guide, who somehow never seems to get sick. Assistants are also paid very poorly, don’t always get health coverage from the employer the way guides do, and must work very hard in order to make enough money to pay the bills. So what ought you know, and what should you do if you are hired in a Montessori program to take care of your own health and wellness? (Because let me keep it real: the head of school may not have much tolerance for too many days off).
1. Know thy health and wellness policy, and follow it, everyone. It is critical that everyone who is affiliated with a program try their best to adhere to a school’s health and wellness policy. Everyone means “everyone”. The parents/ children, as well as the staff, and even the administration need to do their part in upholding the policy. Otherwise, the policy isn’t policy, it’s a suggestion.
I have worked at schools in the past where certain staff were notorious for not requiring that parents uphold the health and wellness policy. They would allow sick children into their classroom; and sure enough, the babies in that room were constantly sick. That nido caught practically every disease of childhood there was. Then the staff get sick.
2. Please try your hardest not to come to work knowing that you’re sick, even though I’m certain you will have to. I empathize very deeply with the very low pay ECE workers make. I used to be an assistant. I also have never been wealthy; and I have never had a partner to help pay any of my bills. In fact, I used to get paid $10 working in a very expensive city at my first ECE job ever; and I never made more than $13/ hour when I used to be a Montessori assistant. I also guarantee that I did not get health care benefits until I became a trained guide. Some schools also don’t hand out default PTO.
So if we don’t show up to work because we’re sick, we don’t get paid. And for some of us, if we don’t get paid, we literally can’t make enough money to pay our bills. So we’ll come to work sick if we have to. And it just keeps perpetuating this cycle of people being unwell. Sometimes it is better to take even half a day off, take your remedies, and go home to sleep off the cold, than it is to develop pneumonia because you kept powering through.
3. Get your vaccines. I know this topic is very controversial; and touchy. But I’d rather not have the flu. So I get a flu shot. Again, I can’t afford to miss work. So if that shot can prevent sick days, I’m getting it.
4. Know where to find the health and wellness policy, so you can refer to it rather than wonder. Both for yourself, and to feel empowered to turn sick children away at the door. Every strong Montessori school will have a very clear health and wellness policy typically found in the staff and parent handbooks. You’ll want to know both of them; so that you have the wisdom of when to turn a child away at the door to prevent yourself and everyone else in class from getting sick. An exceptional school will post the health and wellness policy in plain sight. I forced my last job to post the health and wellness policy outside the door of my classroom, so that it empowered all staff with the right to turn an obviously sick child away at the door if need be.
5. All parents– even if you are a staff member of the school who has your own children– should have 3 alternative contacts or back-up carers on deck for the day your kid inevitably gets sick. It is 110% normal for a young child to get sick up to 12 times a year in their first year of preschool. I’m sorry; but if you chose to have a child, you chose to also find 3 back-up carers. This is basically non-optional. Either you find alternative care, or you are not showing up to work. Care.com or sittercity.com are great resources for on-call nannies. It is unfair to the children and to your colleagues if you don’t show up to work because your children are sick. Not all of us have the luxury of random and unplanned no-shows to work. School directors: You should really be giving out either higher pay, or default care.com credits to assistants so they can show up to work when their kids are sick.
6. Wear thy gloves! Wear them to wipe noses. Wear gloves while doing the dishes. I can’t stress this enough. I also recommend gloves that are not powdered; and gloves that fit correctly. You know what sucks real bad, and spreads disease? When the gloves are too big and powdered, and they slip off your hands while you’re changing a diarrhea diaper. You know what also sucks? Having cracked hands because not only are you washing them a million times a day, but the gloves are powdered, and the powder dries your hands out. P.S. that powder isn’t safe for babies. So really, the gloves should never be powdered. And if staff have a range of hand sizes, a range of glove sizes ought to also be purchased.
7. In a solid school, there will be a very clear protocol for what to do when contagious illnesses are observed in a classroom.
Now, I have worked for schools that did not seem to take the spread of contagious illnesses seriously enough. They basically manipulate the system and only tell who they are legally required to tell based on their licensing structures. For example, if pinworms broke out in primary, and each classroom is under its own license, the school is not legally required to tell other classrooms about the pinworms outbreak– even if the primary children spend before care and after care in the toddler classroom. I have worked at schools that don’t inform staff of illness outbreaks. They literally thought it convenient to tell parents but not us staff persons. Yeah. Not cool.
8. The school must take sanitizing of the environment seriously after an outbreak. This means washing toys, sanitizing all touched surfaces, sometimes washing all of your linens (even curtains and carpets), and sometimes even emptying out the sand box. One time, pinworms were reported at a school, but they didn’t clean any of the curtains, and didn’t vacuum– and held a staff meeting that very same night of the outbreak without sanitizing! They literally required staff to sit on that (shudder) contaminated rug; and the owner and lead guide of that class were cracking jokes about it.
I worked for a different school that got a pinworms outbreak, and they didn’t empty out the sand in the sandbox. Pinworms just kept cycling around; and I never really knew if it was the sandbox for sure, but that was my hunch. I’m sorry; but as a staff person, we matter, too. We care about our health–I don’t want pinworms. So if you work at a Montessori program, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask what is required to sanitize your environments effectively. Indoors and out.
A solid classroom or program will take illness seriously and basically sanitize every last possible surface or even keep the kids outside for longer than normal if necessary in order to clean what ought to be cleaned. Pillows and linens will disappear until the lice disappears. Everyone will receive reassurance that everything that ought to be done to clean and disinfect is being done.
9. Know how to nip illnesses in the bud. I am SO good at this, not to toot my own horn. But when everyone is going down left and right, I’m still there, solid as ever health-wise. Why? Because I know every hippy voodoo pagan remedy there is to nip every major illness of preschool in the bud. I hate getting sick. I hate using up my PTO days for anything other than actual fun vacations. I also didn’t get PTO at one of my jobs for an entire year!!
So I have learned that if I get sick, I’m not going to just pop a tylenol and pretend like it’s going to go away. I have surefire, guaranteed-to-work remedies that I immediately employ the moment I sense something coming on. I’m not (beep)ing around when it comes to nipping illness in the bud. I am not getting sick, people. I am not. And I am not showing up to work sick either.**the remedies below are for adults, NOT children; so please do NOT try them on your infants or toddlers**
diarrhea= asian rice porridge.
Vomiting/ Nausea= colloidal bentonite clay + activated charcoal, and something from whole foods called ipicacihuana (or something like that. The whole foods people will know. It’s like these little round balls in a blue tube).
colds= vitamin C, zinc, and swallow chopped raw garlic clove before bed (one clove chopped in to like 4 pill-sized pieces that I swallow like pills with water without chewing or cooking them).
Lice scare= tea tree oil in my hair and on my scalp; and wearing a hat.
10. If you work at a Montessori school, you aren’t magically immune from abiding by the health and wellness policies of the school you work for.
Bonus tip: exercise and eat well. I know a lot of staff who work with kids are exhausted after long days of hard work. And the last thing you can think about is working out or preparing a healthy meal. Especially if your Montessori job over-enrolls classrooms and forces all shifts to be 9 hours. But if you take good care of your health in foundational ways, you won’t get sick as much and you will cast away stress. Which compromises the immune system.
Here are two critical points on the importance of staff health and wellness everyone should also know:
Critical Point 1: You don’t get an infinite number of days off just because your kid is sick. This is unfair. So you need to be held to the same standard as parents of the school, which is to come up with and provide three alternative care providers in the event that your kid is in fact sick. That way, you can still come to work. And you hopefully avoid getting sick, too.
Critical Point 2: All staff need to abide by the health and wellness policy of your Montessori job. Because if you don’t, you’ll potentially rob yourself of the chance to truly recover, you might get the kids sick, and you might get your co-workers sick. These are all bad things. Are you really trying to spread a contagious disease to a group of toddlers? Really?
But if you’re ill and you feel you need a doctor’s appointment, GO. Don’t feel pressured by your boss to wait until Saturdays to schedule doctor’s appointments. Or fear your lack of pay and letting the team down by leaving an hour early to make an appointment. Montessori jobs will replace you in a heartbeat if you died, I assure you. So always make health a priority.