Beware of the dreaded time of year: flu season. With limited sick days, it’s crucial for us to avoid the flu in special education classrooms. Just this year (2020), some area schools have closed due to a large amount of cases of flu. According to the CDC, 68 children have died from this year’s flu. As special education teachers, we often work with kids who have weakened immune systems, so staying flu free is of extra importance for us. So how can we protect ourselves and students from the flu?
Get Your Flu Shot
It’s not too late to get a flu shot. I took my stepson (with his dad) to get his shot just two weeks ago. The flu shot is the best defense against the flu. According to the Mayo Clinic, “the flu vaccine is about 50% to 60% effective for healthy adults who are between 18 and 64 years old.” Wait? Only 50 to 60 percent? That’s true, but it’s still the most effective defense we have.
Last year, I got the flu from a student even though I already had my flu shot. The flu shot helps your symptoms become more mild than they would have been if you didn’t have the vaccine. In fact, the doctor thought I looked too healthy for flu, but my test came back positive. I had a different strain than the one the vaccine protected against that year. Did I get my flu shot this year even though I still got the flu last year? Absolutely, I did. This year, I got my flu shot from Walgreens. There was a short wait, but it wasn’t bad, and totally worth it.
Wash Your Hands to Avoid Flu
Wash your hands with soap (affiliate link) and water. Make sure your students do the same. If your students are working on learning how to effectively wash their hands, teach them how with with my resource, We Can Practice Hygiene. The resource has visuals for students to practice each step. Washing your hands thoroughly is better than using hand sanitizer (affiliate link), but having some handy is a good backup. If you don’t have hand washing times built into your class schedule, implement it now. Some good times to wash hands would be right away when coming into the classroom, before lunch or any snacks, after sneezing or coughing, and of course after using the restroom.
How Long Should We Wash Our Hands?
Everyone should wash their hands for at least twenty seconds. To help your students wash their hands long enough, I’ve found it helpful to have them sing (or sing with them) the ABC song. If you’re working with older students, the ABC song isn’t really age appropriate. Instead, they can count to twenty. A visual with a number line near the sink can aid in the counting and support math skills. If your kids are higher level, they could count by 5 to 100 which would take about the same amount of time. Be creative here and include student interest if you can. You know your kids best.
Don’t Touch Your Face
This is a hard one to do because we all touch our faces without realizing it all the time. By avoiding touching your face, you avoid bringing the flu virus near your nose, mouth, and eyes. Don’t give it an open door. I have long hair, so I like to pull my hair back in a pony tail or braid to keep it away. It gives me one less reason for my hands to be near my face. Remember to not rest your head on your hands. That’s the hardest part for me, but it helps me to remember another benefit to doing this is that it keeps oils from your hands from getting in your pores so it helps maintain clearer skin too.
Take Care of Your Body
As special education teachers, it can be hard to find time to take care of ourselves, but it’s important that we do in order to maintain our health and sanity. We need to do this for ourselves, our students, and our families. Schedule time with yourself to maintain healthy habits like exercise, eating well, and sleeping. Try to stay as hydrated as you can while balancing the delicate act of scarce teacher bathroom breaks. It also helps to maintain a practice that helps you de-stress. Personally, I listen to guided meditations I find on YouTube. I also use both the Sattva and Calm apps on my phone to support my meditation practice. I use the free versions of both.
Did you know that the flu virus can live on surfaces for 24 hours? Ick! Make sure you are cleaning surfaces like tables and chairs regularly. This could even be made into a classroom job. Just be careful of what cleaning products your school allows both for you to use, and especially what is allowed for students to use if you have them help with cleaning.
If you’re in a self contained classroom, your district should provide you access to gloves for toileting. You should always use your gloves and use the proper removal protocol for gloves. Any time you’re dealing with body fluids like runny noses, you should be wearing gloves. I know it seems impersonal to wear gloves that much, and they are kind of annoying (hand sweat, anyone?), but when it comes to flu, sharing is not caring. We might not look as fabulous as Beyonce wearing our gloves, but at least ours will cover our fingertips.
Don’t Share Food to Avoid Flu
It might be tempting to try a bite of your teacher friend’s cookie in the lounge, but don’t do it. Avoid touching or eating anybody else’s food. Hear that, lunch box bandits? Teach your students to do the same. You could even have students practice safe serving practices with gloves and tongs as an employment skill during classroom parties.
Avoid the Flu in Special Education Classrooms
It’s so important that we avoid the flu in special education classrooms. There is no way to prevent it completely, but taking these steps yourself and teaching your students these steps too will help you maintain a healthy, happy classroom while teaching important life and career skills at the same time.