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What Teachers Should Know About Their Students With Fatigue

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Dear teacher of a student with fatigue,

First of all, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what fatigue feels like, based on my own experience. To me, it feels like staying up for three days straight, even if I’ve gotten 12 hours of sleep. Often my head is fuzzy and I’m unable to focus. No amount of sleep makes much of an impact.

I can’t speak for your student, but I can speak from my experience as a student and what my teachers did – and what I wish they’d done – to help me. I had many amazing teachers who helped me in any way they could, but I also had a few who made things very hard for me. I hope you’ll be the former.

The best teachers I had were the ones who were sympathetic and willing to work with me, even if they didn’t fully understand my fatigue. I knew I could come to them if I wasn’t able to complete an assignment on time and we could talk about it and come up with a solution together. When I had to miss class, which I hated doing but it happened often, I really appreciated the teachers who helped me make up the lessons I’d missed, even if it was just pointing me to the right pages in the textbook instead of leaving me to figure it out alone. The “brain fog” that comes with fatigue can be debilitating and it’s really nice to have help sometimes. I was lucky in my school career to have so many great teachers; they’ve all left their marks on me and made me a better person.

Unfortunately, I also had a few teachers who made going to class with fatigue harder than normal. I wish I could have explained to them what it felt like, but I don’t know that it would have changed anything. I hope maybe I can help another teacher avoid their mistakes.

Making accommodations for your student with fatigue is vital to their success, and might be the law, depending on how debilitating their fatigue is (504 and/or IEP). If you don’t know what you can do to accommodate fatigue, talk to the student or their parents. They’re the ones who know best how you can help them. If their suggestions don’t work for you, please keep offering suggestions until something works for everyone. It’s not OK to leave a child feeling like they can’t succeed in your class because of something they can’t control.

Keep in mind that a student with fatigue may look “healthy,” but their body and brain are not functioning like other students’. Because fatigue is seen as an “invisible illness,” it can lead people to question whether someone is really sick or not. No matter what your personal thoughts or feelings are, please respect your student. They don’t need an adult in their life questioning their illness when they’re probably doing that themselves and possibly dealing with other kids doing the same thing.

The best advice I can give to a teacher of a student with fatigue is to listen to what they need. Maybe they need to be reminded that their health comes first. Maybe they need to know that someone believes what they’re feeling is real. Maybe they just need a small smile in the hallway between classes to get them through the day.

Thank you for listening to me, and I hope you’re able to take something away from this. School should be a safe, friendly environment for everyone, including students with fatigue.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 9, 2016
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