The Lurgy: Beating the Child Germs

girl and cat
Photo: Grzegorz Wasylko


First, a confession: I am writing this while off sick. It seems ironic then that I am writing a blog post about that which I frequently fail to do, but as I sit surrounded by Strepsils/saltwater/paracetamol I couldn’t help but think that there are many other EFL teachers in the same position. Teaching (any age group) means that you are constantly exposed to people, therefore exposed to their germs, and as soon as you are teaching children, the likelihood of you getting sick expands exponentially. Children are GROSS.

At the start of this academic year I caught a cold or had a sore throat every fortnight. It isn’t my first year teaching – this year marked the start of my fifth. The child germs are eternal, and at times it seems invincible. But fear not, because there are still some things you can do to fight them.


Wash your hands*.

It sounds like such an obvious thing, doesn’t it? But it’s so easy to forget when you’re rushing between one class and another, or trying to remember that you have the relevant books/boardmarkers/coloured pencils/cuddly toy for your next class. Make yourself wash your hands as soon as you finish teaching a class – especially if you’re going to be eating during the break. You will convince yourself that you don’t have time, or that you don’t need to – you need to. Sooner or later you will regret the alternative. From what I’ve seen hand sanitisers have mixed reviews, some people swear by them, others hate them and repeatedly point out that they damage skin and aren’t as good as soap and water. Personally I keep a thing of hand sanitiser in my bag as back up – if I slip up and forget to wash my hands, or use a student’s  pencil, or hold a student’s hand and then realise where that hand has been, I use a surreptitious squirt of hand sanitiser. Otherwise, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

*I find handwashing and hand sanitiser do tend to dry my skin out, especially in cold weather. Invest in some decent hand cream too, if it’s not too girlie for you.

cat washing

Photo: Kevin Drum

EVERYONE needs to wash their hands.

So, you’re washing your hands regularly. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately not, because yours are only one pair of hands in the classroom. As I’m teaching elementary school students this year, I can honestly say that their hands go to far more horrific places than mine do while we’re in the classroom – down their trousers, in their mouths, up their noses. I’m fortunate enough to have a sink in all the classrooms in which I teach, which does make my life easier here, but I’d like to think I’d still continue the handwashing routine even if it were not the case. Picture the scene: mid-way through the lesson, little V, sitting in his chair, suddenly decides to explore the contents of his left nostril. I find a well placed ‘Ew!’ (or culturally/L1 understood equivalent), possibly a mimed demonstration of the undesirable behaviour, followed by ‘Wash your hands!’ tends to be quite effective. You spot the hands going anywhere you don’t want the hands to go, the hands get washed. Yes, I’m interrupting the flow of the lesson. Yes, I’m calling the child out in front of the class. But I’m also educating them about being human and behaving in an appropriate way, and businessmen do not pick their nose mid-meeting and then smear it on their desk.

Wash the things too, if possible.

Part of teaching, particularly teaching littlies, is that we end up using a load of *stuff* in class. Pens, pencils, scissors, cuddly toys, flashcards… A few weeks back I found myself in an entirely earnest conversation with my flatmate about whether or not it was over the top for me to disinfect my flashcards. We came to the conclusion that it was not. Most lessons, the flashcards go on the floor. They get touched by  all of the students. Every so often a student will take it upon themselves to kiss them (as my grade 1 student did when we were learning family members) or lick them (as a student did when we were learning food vocabulary). If it’s yours, and it’s possible to wash it, wipe it, or disinfect it every so often – do so!

Sharing is great – except for when it’s your stuff.

My first few years of teaching I was always the nice kind teacher who lent pens and pencils to students who had ‘forgotten’. Until I taught T, a student whose forgetfulness, loudness and trouble-making abilities were only exceeded by his disregard for other people’s property. One of those children with an almost permanent snot-stream coming out of his nose, I lost count of the number of times that I would lend him a pen or pencil, only to realise that it was either being gradually inserted up his nose, or being returned to me complete with teeth marks. I no longer lend my students stationary. Their classmates can lend it, the school reception can lend it, really anyone can lend it, apart from me.

I also try to avoid using my students’ pens or pencils. It has taken some getting used to remembering to pick up a pen of my own on my route round the classroom when monitoring – but it also means I can correct their work without exposing myself to whatever germs might be on their pen.

Look after yourself!

I don’t want to sound like a broken record after my last post, but it really is important to look after yourself. Make sure you’re drinking enough water. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Try your best to eat a healthy diet and get some exercise. Take multivitamins. If you’re fit and healthy you’re more likely to ward of germs, and even if you do fall prey to them, you’ll probably get over it quicker. You are doing a hard job. Look after yourself!

This includes…

Take a sick day if you need to!

I’m sure I can’t be the only teacher who would prefer to be on their deathbed before taking a sick day. Having to rely on colleagues to teach your class instead of/as well as their own or having to make the hours up by teaching extra on a different day (both of which I have experienced) often seem like good enough reasons to force yourself to go into school no matter what. The fact is, though, that you do need to take time to rest and recover, and taking one day off to do that is better than forcing yourself to plough through, only to need to take more days off when you haven’t got better.

Photo: Alex Jedlinski

Any more tricks and tips to fight the dreaded lurgy and avoid getting sick?




All photos from


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