Having a child with diabetes in your classroom can be challenging for teachers and school staff. No matter how independent your student is, he needs support of trusted, caring adult at school. Therefore, you have to do some planning to be able to support a student with diabetes. This, in turn will help him feel safe at school.
Below are guidelines for teachers which we hope will be helpful particularly for those who have never had a diabetic student in their classroom.
- Learn about diabetes as much as you can. Explore different resources to become aware of the conditions of children with type 1 diabetes, which will help you understand the essential diabetes care tasks so you could ensure a safe classroom environment and optimize your students’ success.
- Get to know the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar to keep your students healthy and to know how to react in case of emergency.
- Every child is different. Different students may use different therapies to manage their condition, and while some may need help, others are independent. Become familiar with the student’s individual care plan to know how you can best respond and support.
- Communicate with parents and staff. Talk about care details with your student’s parents, school nurse and other teachers at school. Share information, concerns and questions as needed. Together you can create the most effective and helpful system for the child. Moreover, it will be easier for you to know that you have the support of other staff at school, as well as the child’s parents.
- Provide your student with unrestricted access to needed care. Depending on their level of independence they should be allowed to self-manage their condition and have unrestricted access to the school nurse or other trained school personnel. Allow them to monitor blood glucose level at any time or anywhere, respecting their wish for privacy.
- Permit snacks. Your student may need to eat outside a planned meal or snack time when they feel low. Allow them to keep an emergency stash of fast-acting carbohydrates in the classroom and let them eat snacks during the class. This is imperative in making sure the blood sugar doesn’t drop too low.
- Allow unrestricted access to water at all times. This is especially important when blood sugar is too high and causes extreme thirst. Let your student have a bottle of water at the desk to provide limited disruption to the class instruction.
- Allow unrestricted bathroom access. When sugar is too high, the body tries to eliminate its excess through urine. So, make sure your student doesn’t hesitate to take a bathroom break whenever necessary.
- Don’t draw unnecessary attention. Most children with diabetes don’t want to be treated differently. Therefore, don’t limit their activities or draw unnecessary attention. If the student is acting odd, privately ask him to check blood sugar, which can be done without necessarily leaving the classroom. You can also provide a unique signal between the two of you to remind your student when it’s time.
- Be understanding. Both high and low blood sugar affect thinking and can make it difficult for the student to concentrate, causing minor disorganization. So, prepare to repeat some things, especially if the student was away from their desk during the class time. They may also need to reschedule taking a test if their blood sugar is low or high, or have additional 30-60 minutes to complete the task after recovery. Even if they think they are fine, they can skip problems, make silly mistakes and answer in the wrong answer blanks thinking they are doing well at the moment. So, give them the opportunity to retake the test when their sugar is stable.
- Always be prepared. A low blood sugar can occur at any time, therefore a kit for treating hypoglycemia should always be available in the classroom and other areas of the school, especially during school assemblies and field trips.
- Never leave a student with low blood sugar alone. When the student is experiencing a low blood sugar, provide them with a snack that has 15 grams of fast-acting carbs, such as a 4 ounce cup of juice, a fruit roll-up, jelly beans or 4 glucose tabs and have them test their blood sugar. If they need to go to the nurse’s office, have somebody accompany them. Implement a buddy system in your class and ensure the diabetic student always uses it.
- Notify parents of schedule changes in advance. Let parents and other school staff know about upcoming field trips, parties, special class events and any changes to the school routine, especially where food activity is involved, so that adjustments could be made in insulin dosage.
- Treat diabetic students the same as other students. Diabetic students should be treated fairly and have access to all school opportunities as their peers. Neither should they be left out of class parties, which will only lead to hurt feelings. With little preplanning and communication with parents, diabetic children can eat cakes, cookies and other special treats as long as they take an appropriate amount of insulin.
Make an effort to understand the life of a student with diabetes to ensure they receive proper care and attain optimal academic performance.