What I Want Educators to Know About Their Students With Chronic Illness
Growing up, I had always known teachers as the people at school who would advocate for me just as my parents would. For the first half of my educational career, before my illness, I was lucky to have teachers who aided me in my journey towards my goals. In my mind, teachers had always pushed me to be my best, helped me to learn to take responsibility for failures and guided me. Until I was diagnosed, I never realized there were sometimes teachers who didn’t help students in the way I had always known them too. It became much more apparent when I first became sick.
To my high school principals:
I understand and could never think about how hard it is to run a school full of adolescents on the brink of adulthood. Monitoring kids at an age where their world is changing at a fast pace must be difficult and stressful.
I understand I was not above any other student in school – I didn’t want to be.
I hope the next time you come across a student who is facing a major life change such as an illness that you will not assume they have “school phobia” or are trying to get out of classwork. This is a scary time for them, and I hope you can see that.
I hope you learn that sitting them in a conference room and insinuating that laziness and fear are the roots of the problem is embarrassing and humiliating to someone whose life has been life turned upside down.
To my freshman year professor:
I realize you may have been facing some challenges yourself in life. Since my diagnoses, I have learned firsthand to never underestimate what someone is going through. You will never know what is going on in a person’s life just by looking at them.
I understand I am an adult, and therefore should be held accountable for my work and actions. But, on the day I brought in a hard copy of my assignment, instead of emailing it, I hoped you would be understanding. I asked for compassion when I realized my mistake. I hoped that when I got back to my dorm room I could send you an electronic copy as well.
You did not accept my printed assignment and instead belittled my memory in front of the class.
Even when you knew I had chronic fatigue syndrome and POTS after I did a presentation in class about how something as simple as walking across campus can trigger my symptoms, you forced me to spend most of the 50-minute class running back to my dorm on the opposite side of campus to email you my paper so I would not fail.
I hope the next time you come across a student whose brain fog got in the way of the directions that you will have more compassion. I hope you will still hold them accountable, but not chastise them for something they cannot control. I hope you don’t use your power as a professor to demean students who are struggling and make them seem as though they are trying to get around the standards other students are set to.
No one should feel they need to hide their illness or be afraid to ask for help when needed because they are scared to look like they are trying to get the easy way out.
To all educators:
Thank you. Thank you for signing up to inspire and teach and grow every single student you encounter. I know you come across thousands of students in your time as a teacher and take care of each one as if they are as special as the last. I want you to know that to a chronically ill child, a teacher who gives them the tools and encouragement to succeed can change their outlook on life.
To all students facing chronic illness:
If you have had who educators failed to help you during times of need, don’t blame them. Spread awareness. Use your voice, because sometimes they need educating as well.
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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz.