Information for Educators

Much has been written about the needs of the student with a chronic illness. However, the teacher and other school staff also have great challenges in meeting the needs of this special population of learners. The staff must be aware of not only the student's educational needs, but also the social, emotional, psychological and health-related needs of the student.

Teachers need help, too

Kids in school.

Providing appropriate services to a student with special needs requires a lot of energy, effort and resourcefulness on the part of the school staff. The teacher might become emotionally invested in the young person, and powerless to help the student face the challenges of school.

It is essential for a teacher to face these feelings honestly. All school staff must always remain aware of the dangers inherent in sympathizing too strongly with the student who has a chronic condition.

The danger of sympathizing too strongly is not only for the teacher. The young person might become unable to deal with the diagnosis or could develop the misperception that the illness is more severe than parents and medical care providers had admitted. The youngster might even give up and stop trying to achieve any sense of normalcy in life.

Sympathy versus Empathy

Sympathy does not empower the youngster or provide the skills necessasry for self-determination.

Empathy, on the other hand, is a wonderful perception to guide a teacher working with a student with a chronic illness. Empathy means walking in the shoes of another, and enables us to understand more clearly the student's journey. If we empathize with the chronically ill child, we are more likely to be able to identify effective means of helping. Everyone is a winner when a healthy dose of empathy is supplied!

"Outside the box"

Educators are asked to "think outside the box" when planning and providing education for a chronically ill child. For some, it is the first time that they have been asked to individualize instruction to such a great extent.

Daily decisions are required to determine the child's current needs and the best way to meet those needs. Parents, the student, peers and administrators will all look to the teacher for answers and solutions. The classroom teacher might feel overwhelmed by these expectations, which inevitably must mesh with providing the best educational services for the child.

Teachers and school staff must remember to take care of themselves. It is important to find those who will support you as you face the day-to-day challenges of educating chronically ill students. When it is done correctly, it is a difficult and demanding task, yet one of the most rewarding experiences found in teaching!