You asked for it...Tips for Teachers

I've got a lot to carry
"I wish you would treat me like a student instead of like a patient. I'm not sick, so when you ask me if I feel OK all the time, this heart problem that I have feels like a heavy weight."

"I really want to be just like everybody else, so please don't expect me to give lessons about my leukemia to the class. Then I stand out like a sore thumb." 

"When you asked me privately if I'd like to tell the class about my arthritis, it made me feel special, like I was in charge. Thanks!" 

"I have to drink a lot of water to stay healthy, and it was so nice of you to let everyone in the class keep water bottles on their desks. It didn't make me feel weird." 

"Because I have to test my blood and give myself Insulin shots while I'm in school, I'm glad that you know about my diabetes, and that you don't make a big deal about it. I feel safe." 

"When I'm not paying attention in class, it's often because my heart isn't sending out enough oxygen, not because I'm being bad. I wish that you would know those signs, so that I wouldn't always be getting in trouble." 

"When kids were making fun of me for being clumsy, you had a class meeting about all of our differences. I never thought of my muscular dystrophy that way before, and it really helped me." 

"What a surprise to get a videotape from the class when I was in the hospital. All the other kids were so impressed. My roomate said, 'boy, you must really be popular'." 

"Remember the bag of hospital supplies that I brought to class? Thanks for letting me show the stuff to everyone. I felt really cool, since I knew what everything was, and most of the other kids didn't." 

"I hate it when you keep asking if I can eat this or do that. I know what my limitations are and I can look after myself. It also embarrasses me in front of my friends."

"I have lots of medical problems, like a club arm, a colostomy bag, and scars from many operations. My mom and I think that it's such a good idea to invite a few moms and classmates into the "world" of kids like me... to make everybody more comfortable.  When kids came to my house, it was a lot easier to answer all of their questions than it would have if I had to talk to a whole class. Yikes! We hope that you'll tell other parents of this great idea!"

"I'm in preschool and I have epilepsy. Since none of my classmates have problems like that, I really appreciated it when  my teacher read a book about taking epilepsy to school. The neurologist sent it to my mom, and she gave it to the teacher. The good thing is that now the teachers  know about seizures in case I have one at school.  It also felt pretty cool to have the teacher read a book about me! So if you have kids in your class with epilepsy, or any other problem, just ask for a book about it so that you'll understand."

"Please be sensitive to kids with differences. The high school and college years with their attention to "looking right" are not ones where anyone with a large birthmark would want to be exposed. In college, the P.E. Teacher made me wear shorts. Every class was torture. She was wrong, wrong, wrong, in her psychology. Showing parts of my body that could be covered should be my choice. For me, showing my thighs evokes a feeling of being as exposed as one of you would feel if your pants fell down. It should be our right to conceal what we don't feel comfortable showing."

"I sometimes have a hard time staying focused on what my teacher is saying or doing.  Please don't call out my name to get my attention. Everyone in the class looks at me and that embarrasses me.  Just tap me on the shoulder. That will get my attention back without everyone looking at me like I'm bad."

"Please be aware of how much of an impact you have on little ones. I was diagnosed with Diabetes when I was in second grade.  My teacher, who was my favorite person in the world at the time (and an excellent teacher), sat the entire class down and told them that I had "a disease." From second grade on through high school, friends were few and far between; not many people wanted to be friends with "that girl with the disease."  I'm grown up now, but that is still a very painful memory. "

"I wish that you wouldn't explain to everyone...and me...that the reason I'm having a tough time with my school work is because of all my absences and medical problems. Bringing these things up all the time doesn't help; it just reminds me of what's different about me. Next time why don't you just send home a book with instructions and mom or dad could help? Or how about  modifying the amount of work due, say a one page essay instead of two? Now I would really appreciate that!"

"When you asked if there was anything you needed to know about us for gym, I told you I was diabetic. When you responded "oh well, I don't mean eating disorders",  that hurt.  I do not have anorexia or bulemia, yet I was put into that category. Be more sensitive, please,  all I wanted to do was fence."

"I would like you to know that kids like me with arthritis can have a very hard time writing. All you need to do is look at my hands. How come you expect me to write so much? Couldn't you give me another assignment or ask me to read something. Writing really hurts and I have a hard time holding those heavy books!"

"Please don't tell me I cannot carry my inhalers into class, since I do know how to use them and I could die without them. I know how to help other kids in the class with asthma or allergies, too, because I've had both for a long time, and I've become pretty expert at what to do. How come you get mad at  me when I try to help?"

"When I had to give up sports in fifth grade, I felt my world crumble.  Sports had been my dream, my life.  Then, when kids realized I wasn't like them, I wanted to die.  I imagined that everybody would hate me.  When I had surgery, I realized how wrong I was.  You threw me a get well party with a mountain of things to do (a.k.a. homework) and 35 get well cards.  You were
there for me.  Thanks." 

"I want so much to blend in. I wish that you would let me!  I can't write well because of my medical problems, so I get bad grades.  When you read the grades to the whole class and say, 'tsk, tsk, tsk, looks like somebody's been lazy this year.', I just cringe, it's so embarrassing.  I haven't been lazy! I can't help it, yet you make me feel like it's my fault!"

"Please don't think that I am intentionally being bad or rude when I get frustrated. Because of the bipolar illness I have, I sometimes  can't control what I say or do. I wish that you wouldn't  get angry and send me to the principal everytime I get out of control. I get so upset with myself for my loss of control, and your punishing me for it makes me feel even worse. I wish I had a safe place where I could go and be alone during those times. I know that it would help me to calm down." 

"I know what I can and cannot do. If you are concerned about my participating in activities anyway, speak to my parents, but pleeeeaaassseee don't try to stop me from doing things like sit-ups in gym class. If other kids are anything like me, then when they tell you that they are allowed to do something, they are."

"I have neurofibromatosis and all my teachers have been really understanding and supportive. If you give students a chance to explain their medical problems, you'd be surprised how much they know and how normal they are. Around teachers, students are students first and patients second or third or tenth. If you treat us and our medical conditions with respect and understand our need for privacy, you'd also be surprised how much respect you will get in return. Thanks."

" I have severe scoliosis and need to have two operations in the Fall to fix it . When you go on about how cool it is, I go nuts.  I don't think it's cool at all. How would you like it if you were going to be cut open along the side, have several discs and a rib removed, then be sewn back up, only to return to surgery the next week for a second operation? At that time you would have  rods, screws and a bone graft attached to your spine...not cool at all!   I'm lucky the doctors can fix the scoliosis and that I have such a great surgeron, but really,  it is not"cool". I understand you might not know what to say, but it is much better to be quiet than to be insensitive. Please don't do this to your students."

"A group of kids were teasing me badly for a few weeks and the teacher never noticed.  When I'd finally had enough, I took the teacher aside before class and told her to make it stop.  She said to deal with it.  As I walked away, I said something along the lines of "Why does everyone hate me because I'm handicapped?"  The teacher heard my griping and told me she had no idea that I was disabled.  I guess I don't look it (how does one look it, anyway?).  She moved those people to other seats in the room that day.  Now that I've vented, I'll tell you my tip.  Look for and handle all teasing.  No one likes to be made fun of.  Do something about the most malicious kids, not because you could get sued, but because it's the right thing to do."

"Sometimes things may look okay but sometimes thing aren't always as they appear. Some disabilities you can see, but other like mine you just can't. Not every one of your students is the same, but please please please don't treat kids who are 'so called' out of the "NORM" differently because we're kids most importantly, much more like everyone else than we are different."

"Please don't assume that just because a person is interested in something, that he or she deals with it first hand. For a writing class, I did a term paper on cystic fibrosis. After I got done with my presentation, my professor had
everyone pray (I am at a Christian college) that my cf would be healed. I have cp not cf. I felt very dumb because cf can be a lot bigger of a problem than cp.  Afterward,  all of my friends kept saying they felt sorry for me.  They all
offered to take notes for me while I was in the hospital for my next tune up.  It took forever to straighten out the mess."

You help me feel strong!

I'll carry you back to the site map.

Can't wait to read what you have to say!

Do you have some other tips for teachers? If you do, I hope that you'll mail them to me in this envelope.

Joan Fleitas, Ed.D. , R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY 
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated:November 14, 2004