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To the Teacher Who Has a Medically Fragile Child or Sibling in Their Class

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Dear teacher,

Having a medically fragile child or sibling of a medically fragile child in your class can open your eyes to a world you might not know about, but one that is very common.

And please know, this comes from the point of view of a teacher who had to resign because of her medically fragile child. It is in no way meant to be judgmental, but it does reflect things I wish I had known so I could support my students better.

Our oldest son has a little brother who has a severe congenital heart defect (CHD). His younger brother just had his third life-saving open heart surgery.

And he survived.

What you might not see from this story, is that the older brother is still trying to understand why his little brother has boo-boos on his chest that keep him from bouncing on the bed with him, engaging in roughhousing, and makes his brother irritable most of the time.

You might not see an older brother who carefully watches his cranky and exhausted parents who aren’t sleeping well at night because one is up with the baby brother, while the other is working late to make up for lost time. The older brother sees they both still carry a lot of worry and fear, since so much is left unknown.

You might not see that older brother frequently ask his momma, “What’s wrong? Why are you talking in a quiet voice? Why are you going back to the hospital? I don’t want you to go to the hospital… I want you to stay at home.”

You might see a stay-at-home mom in the family, but not realize that “stay-at-home mom” equals being on the phone with insurance/doctors/pharmacies half the day, with therapists the other half of the day. It means working on therapy homework, making sure her child gets numerous medications on time, constantly keeping vital checks in the back of her head — on top of doing normal household chores, meals, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc.

You might not realize there is financial strain on the family that keeps the older brother from doing many, if not all, extra curricular activities.

You might not realize your classroom is the only place he gets to interact with his friends on a regular basis and participate in many different activities.

You might not know that when he gets home from school, if his little brother is sick, there is no one to sit and do homework with him or even go through his homework folder. There is no one to make sure he has his library books on library day. There is no one to make sure he packed an extra pair of shoes on gym day.

You might not see these things, but you do see him sitting in your class everyday, so they are very important things for you to know.

If he forgets his extra pair of shoes for outside recess, please don’t even bring it up. In the grand scheme of things, mud on your floor is not even a concern.

If he’s forgotten his gloves on a cold day, borrow a pair from somewhere — anywhere. Give him your gloves.

If you’re sending homework home, ask yourself if it’s absolutely necessary for him to develop mastery of a skill — or is it just “busy work”?

If you do decide to send something home, does he have everything he needs to be successful in case there isn’t a parent who can sit with him and fill in the gap of needed supplies or explanation?

Is there any extra emotional and academic support you can provide at school? If so, please do it. I guarantee you it’s likely needed.

Adopt this student as your class helper. Sit with them one on one and work with them. You will learn very valuable information about their home life. Ask the parents if you can meet them at a local park, or another agreed upon place, so you can see what their day-to-day life is like.

I know this may seem like a lot.

But these families need all of the support they can get.

Thank you,

A momma of a CHD warrior who used to be a teacher.

Originally published: July 24, 2018
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