By Dev Stolz
My desk is a battlefield. The air of sickness hangs around me. A plume of steam from a mug of tea swirls into my field of vision, fogging my glasses. Right now the top of my desk is a graveyard for tissues not yet thrown in the rubbish bin. These tissues fought valiantly against the onslaught of their enemy, Runny Nose. Ultimately they were just not strong enough. Next time I’ll up the ply. Two oranges sit on either side of my laptop, perched at the ready. These are the secret, sneak attack. ‘’Operation Vit-C overload.’’ Nearby a spent bottle of hand sanitizer is cast away- face down beside a bag of cough candies. It has been on the front lines against the onslaught of Japanese cold and flu germs. It gave every ounce of itself towards the fight but just could not protect my immune system, which was sadly breached. Warm soups and heavy sweaters will do their best to comfort me from the losing side of this battle- but soon.. I will win the war.
It’s no surprise that it’s cold and flu season. Either you’ve already caught a bug or you’ve noticed the sea of preventative masks appear on the once smiling faces of your students and coworkers. They are no longer smiling because they are sick. And being sick is the worst. Bad news: you’re probably going to catch something. This is especially true if you are a first year ALT. Good news: I’m writing a column with advice and tips to minimize this. Teachers are exposed to germs every single day. Each time you touch a piece of paper, give a High-Touch or open a classroom door, you’re putting your body in contact with a myriad of germs that you may have never contacted before. While I do not promote a ‘’AVOID ALL GERMS- SANITIZE SANITIZE SANITIZE’’ mindset, I do think that there is value in preventative care. I’ve compiled the most essential advice for teachers living and working in Japan.
#1 Face-masks are worth it
Last week I had a debate with a friend regarding the validity of the Japanese face mask wearing. I will now take this opportunity to smash her argument. Firstly, research has proven masks work. This 2008 study found that family members of sick children were 80% less likely to catch the illness with use of a face-mask and other preventative measures (Macintrye, 2008). A similar study in 2009 looked at 400 people and documented their findings here -70% less likely to contract illness-… ( Benjamin J. Cowling, 2009). And this last study looked at 1,000 students living in university residence halls and found that masks reduced the risk of spreading flu-like symptoms by 75% (Allison E. Aiello, et al., 2011). Ok? Wear a face mask if you’re sick. I don’t care if people back home don’t do it and the mask feels strange. You didn’t come to Japan to do things that people do back home.
Bumpin Fists over High Fives
Greeting/congratulating with knuckles is probably the best thing you can do in terms of preventative measures. In my elementary classes I’ve defaulted to high-fives as the primary means of conveying ‘’Good Job! You’re rad!’’ this needs to change. I’ll provide this link to the American Journal of Infection Control that found fist-bumping transfers 90% less germs than yee ole handshake. Plus it looks so much more かっこよい. Add a finger explosion for added splendor. Right now I’m fist bumping everyone around me in celebration of how healthy we all are.
Teach students to be thoughtful
I’m pretty sure I know which student passed me my cold. It was likely the fifth grade student who sneezed directly in my face while asking my favourite colour during school lunch. Of course I cannot blame the student- but rather take it as an opportunity to teach mindfulness. While you are not your student’s parent or guardian, you can take time to teach life skills and international customs. For example- teaching that Canadians often cough into elbows is an excellent way to reinforce that students should not be coughing on me while still internationalizing!
Pretend your Mom/Grandma is here
Don’t forget the advice of those who raised you. Wash your hands. Eat soup. Rest. Hydrate. Lots fruit and vegetables, etc…
I miss you Grandma!
Good luck everyone this cold and flu season. Stay Healthy!
Also a word of warning for first year ALT’s- Even if you do manage to fend of illness during October-December, be especially careful over the winter break. Teachers who have strong immune systems usually tend to get hit hard during their breaks and down time. Remember that this (life) is a marathon- not a sprint and provide yourself with lots of rest along the way!