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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why?

I am heartbroken.

I'm feeling terribly for Jack.

I'm feeling frustrated with his teacher.

Jack is supposed to remember to carry his diabetes kit (a.k.a. his survival kit) with him everywhere he goes on his school campus and to bring it home at the end of the day. However, it is ultimately his teacher's responsibility to make sure that happens.

When I say "teacher," I mean all of his teachers: classroom, PE, library, music, art, etc. They are supposed to be aware of whether Jack remembers to take his kit when he leaves the classroom, the cafeteria, the library, etc. They are to serve as his back-up and remind him when he forgets.

So Monday, when I went to pick up the kids from school, I was walking across the school campus, and I ran into Jack. He was heading over to the nurse's office with a classmate. Their class was being treated to Oreo cookies in honor of a student's birthday, and Jack was going to get an insulin injection from the nurse. I noticed he didn't have his D kit with him. I stopped him in his tracks, sent him back to class, since it was five minutes before the end of the school day, and told him that I'd take care of the shot rather than the nurse.

I was concerned that he didn't have his D kit. What if he went low on his way to or from the nurse's office? What if a lockdown occured while he was in the nurse's office? There's a reason why his kit needs to accompany him at all times. That kit contains everything he needs to manage his diabetes and survive not just an average school day, but an emergency as well.

Later on that afternoon, I discovered that Jack hadn't taken his D kit home from school with him. Okay, mistakes happen. Jack had been focused on his Oreos and his insulin shot. Gregg and I didn't get riled up. We simply sent him into school on Tuesday with a bag of supplies to replenish his kit and reminded him to take his kit wherever he ventured at school.

Guess what happened on Tuesday? He failed to bring home his kit yet again.

When we talked about it with Jack this morning before school, Jack told us how yesterday, during school, he forgot to take his kit from the library back to his classroom, after his library session had ended.

Apparently, when the librarian saw the kit left in the library, she picked it up and kindly delivered it to Jack's classroom.

Jack said this got him into trouble. He said his teacher said in front of the whole class, "Jack, look at what you did! You made Ms. S [the librarian] have to walk all the way across campus to bring this to you."

When telling us this story and mimicking his teacher, Jack's tone of voice was ugly. It was obvious that his teacher had shamed him.

It was also obvious that we have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Jack's kit is not accompanying him at all times, as it should.

So this morning, Gregg walked Jack to school and went into his classroom to restock his kit and speak with his teacher.

The teacher acknowledged that the kit didn't go home on either Monday or Tuesday, but said nothing of the library incident, and she blamed Jack. Yes, you read that correctly. She blamed Jack! Jack and only Jack!

Next, she said that she and Gregg needed to address this with Jack and needed to present "a united front" to Jack. Without saying anything further or giving Gregg a chance to respond, she called Jack over to join the conversation. Mind you, this happened while other students were in the classroom, and this was NOT Gregg's idea of a united front. Gregg did NOT appreciate the way she was handling this. But before Gregg could interject, she told Jack that he needs to make sure that his kit goes home with him, and she asked Jack what he thought he should do to ensure that happens. Her tone was condescending. She reprimanded Jack and again placed all blame on him.

Gregg watched Jack's face. He saw his reaction and could tell that Jack felt as though he were getting in trouble again.

The teacher then abruptly ended the conversation by excusing herself to move onto her morning routine.

Gregg felt so badly for Jack. He didn't want Jack to think he was in trouble. He didn't want Jack starting his school day feeling upset over something that ultimately is not his responsibility. So he told Jack that he wasn't in trouble and that he shouldn't worry.

Gregg returned home with steam blowing from his ears. He was annoyed with the way the teacher shirked her responsibility and placed all fault and accountability on Jack.

Now, I'm steamed, too. That's just wrong!

It bugs me that his teacher has shown no remorse. I don't necessarily think she needed to apologize to us, but she could have simply said something like, "I'll work with him to try to prevent this from happening." Or, "It's apparent that we can't rely on Jack to remember. I'll do my best to make sure he has his kit with him at all times."

Jack came home from school today and told me what happened when Gregg was in the classroom this morning. "Mom, it was so embarrassing," he said. "Miss B told me that she was disappointed in me. Dad told me I wasn't in trouble, but Miss B sure made it seem like I was."

Jack is seven. He already faces more responsiblity than his peers. Yet, he needs to be more mindful. We do expect him to remember to carry his kit with him at all times. However, we also expect his teachers to help him remember. His teachers are his back-up. His teachers are in charge.

Moreover, we do not expect him to get in trouble or feel as though he's in trouble. He is not to blame when there is a lapse in his diabetes care. He is not to be used as his teacher's scapegoat.

It's not easy to be a kid with a grown-up disease. We realize it's not easy to be an adult caring for a kid with this disease either, but we expect compassion and understanding. If his teacher is unwilling to take on the demands of diabetes, then she never should have accepted him into her class in the first place.

So, we're in this catch 22.

It's only October. We have a long way to go until the end of the school year. We need to work with this teacher. We need her to treat Jack with kindness. We don't want to piss her off.  We don't want Jack to be considered "a problem child." We don't want to be considered "pain-in-the-ass parents" either. But we can't allow the teacher to treat Jack like this, and we need her to accept and handle the responsibility that is hers.

Moreover, we need to know that Jack is safe at school.

We feel as if we're damned if we say something, and we're damned if we don't.

If we say something, we'll undboutedly annoy the teacher. No matter how softly we step around the issue or how tactful we are, we are bound to annoy her, because she thinks Jack was in the wrong and she was in the right. If we say something, we risk a rocky road ahead.

If we don't say something, then we will put Jack's safety at risk. Silence would also convey that we condone her behavior, and silence would impart the message that we agree the responsiblity is all Jack's and that it's okay for her to reprimand him for his forgetfulness.

We must say something. We can't let this go on. Jack depends on us to ensure his well-being, and when he's at school, we must rely on his teachers and the school administration to ensure his well-being for us. Not only that, but we don't want her scolding him, embarrassing him or making him feel as though he's done something wrong when he hasn't.

We are not willing to let something happen to him because a teacher refuses to do her job properly. We're not willing to let something happen to him, because we don't want to make waves.

We also want to protect his emotions. He shouldn't carry around the fear that he'll get into trouble if he forgets his D kit, forgets to test his blood sugar, or do something else related to his diabetes. He shouldn't shoulder any shame.

The question is though: how much do we say and how do we say it?

It's so upsetting and frustrating that we're dealing with this. It's heart-breaking that his teacher has humiliated Jack and made him feel as though he's done something terribly wrong.

Jack said to me this afternoon, "Mom, she just doesn't get diabetes." He's right. She doesn't understand.

This whole issue brings up the invisible aspects of this disease. Jack looks healthy. He acts like the other kids at school, if not more mature. Sure, he has to test his blood sugar level. Sure, he has lows and highs that need to be treated, but he usually handles those lows and highs with ease. He rolls with the punches and rarely complains. He just deals and generally seems okay. He keeps up with his school work. He's a smart cookie, who consistently earns high grades.

He makes it seem as if diabetes doesn't get in the way. He makes it seem as though he's "normal."

The reality is that he's a special needs kid. Diabetes is a serious condition. It can be deadly, if mishandled, and it affects every part of his life, including school. He has to handle the physical and emotional aspects of the disease, all the while keeping up with everything else that comes with school and childhood in general.

Though Jack appears to be living life to its fullest and appears as "normal" as any other kid at the school, he's not. He has a disease that no other student there has. He's the token diabetic in a school of more than 1000 students.

We work hard to make sure diabetes doesn't stop him from doing anything he wants or needs to do. Still, at times, diabetes gets in the way. It creates inconveniences and problems. It must be dealt with. It can't be ignored.

We can NOT take chances with Jack. We can NOT expect him, as a seven-year-old little boy, no matter how much more mature than his peers he appears to be, to be entirely responsible for his diabetes management.

Can you imagine if Gregg and I put his diabetes care on his shoulders? His health would suffer. The State's Child Protective Services would be after us in a heartbeat.

Expecting him to take on his diabetes alone is like leaving a young child at home alone. Kids can not be held responsible for themselves. That's why when we need to leave our children, we leave them under the supervision of a babysitter. Kids do stupid things. They don't think things through. They don't realize consequences. They don't see the big picture. They're forgetful. They don't have the wisdom or common sense of an adult. The bottom line is that they're not mini-adults.

Plus, I firmly believe that kids should be allowed to be kids. They're only young for such a short time, and during that time, they're learning and growing. They have enough challenges simply being kids. They have the rest of their lifetimes to face responsiblities and deal with grown-up issues. Diabetes is a grown-up issue.

In the school's weekly newsletter, the principal is often asking parents not to stop at school and deliver forgotten homework, lunches or instruments. He asserts that the students must learn from their mistakes, and that they will never learn, if their parents repeatedly bail them out.

I agree. When my kids forget their homework, they must suffer the consequences. And they must be treated like every other kid at the school.

However, a diabetes kit is a survival kit. Jack forgetting his diabetes kit can become a matter of life and death. Jack can't just suffer the consequences in order to learn a lesson. Gregg and I are unwilling to risk his well-being, because of a simple error on his part.

If Jack forgets his kit, and if on the way home from school, his blood sugar level crashes fast and hard, and if something happened to him, who would be responsible? The school! They'd be liable. Not us and not Jack.

We've informed the school of Jack's diabetes. We've placed a 504 plan on him. We've conducted diabetes training sessions. We've conveyed the seriousness of this disease. We have made it clear in no uncertain terms that Jack is ultimately not responsible for his own welfare.

If his teachers (or school administrators) choose to ignore the 504 plan and the information we present in training sessions, and if something happened to Jack as the result of his teacher's (or school administrator's)neglect, we could sue the pants off the school district. Does his teacher not realize that?

Jack is supposed to test his blood sugar level before he leaves school at the end of the school day. His teacher is supposed to look at his meter and determine whether he's good to go as is, whether he needs to boost his blood sugar if it's low, or whether he needs to see the nurse if it's high. She's supposed to be the one who makes the judgment call. At that point, if he's forgotten, why can't she remind him to place the kit in his back pack to ensure it goes home with him? Is that really such a big deal? Is that asking too much of her?

This is so troubling. Why is it that I have a tale to tell here? Why can't we depend on Jack's teacher? Why can't she own up to her mistakes? Why is she embarrassing Jack? Why is it that once again we find ourselves in this uncomfortable position of having to confront the school with a diabetes issue? Why is this so difficult?

Sigh...

This is a long post. I'm upset and I have rambled. Thanks for being there!!! Thanks for reading!!!!

9 comments:

shannon said...

Oh Heidi, I am so so angry on your behalf. I have so much to say but I'm afraid I would exceed the character limit for blogger comments. So I'm gonna write you an email. But I don't have your address. Can you drop me a line at shannon.neurotic.city (at) gmail.com? Thanks.

Wendy said...

AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

HEIDI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I AM STEAMING RIGHT NOW!!!!! I can't imagine your frustration!!!!!! HE'S ONLY SEVEN!!!!!!!!! S-E-V-E-N!!!!!!!!

I can't even say anything else right now!!!!!

htimm=) said...

Oh Heidi I am so sorry for what you are facing! We have a top notch teacher and it's still difficult, I can't imagine how difficult this is for you and your husband. ((hugs)) I know you'll come up with a great solution because you are awesome parents.

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Reyna said...

I am pretty darn upset for you.

As you know, Joe is the same age as Jack and kind of has a similar situation with a bag that travels with him to and from specials etc. The teachers carry the bag though, except on Fridays (it is a different learning day set-up on Fridays...so Joe carries it due to staffing issues). This is wrong. Is there a way that you and Gregg could simply say that in light of recent issues with forgetting the bag, that you would like staff to carry it? AND then re-iterate that the responsibility really rests on the adults shoulders to keep Jack safe at school. This is different (IN A BIG WAY) from forgetting his lunch bag, or his homework, or his library book...this is his life-line.

I am so upset that she made him feel bad, shamed, in the wrong etc. As if he doesn't have enough to deal with in his daily-life of being a kid, learing at school, playing sports, and managing D. LOVE to you, Jack, and the family from the Mahers!

Liz said...

Oh my gosh I am so appalled right now!

When I started reading, I was thinking, okay, maybe the teacher sort of misunderstood that this was her responsibility. Like, maybe someone said, "Jack's pretty good at remembering to keep his kit with him," and she processed it as, "I don't have to worry about this."

Was there a lesson for Jack to learn there? Absolutely. I've flipped my lid at Penny for forgetting her kit, myself. But shaming him in front of the class and his own father? That just STEAMS ME OFF. Surely, the parent should be the one to administer disciplinary action and lectures, not the teacher, even if the point of the exercise is to present a united front!

I think you're going to have to request an actual sit-down meeting with her to do some re-education on this topic, really. You can be nice about it if you're trying to be Good Guys, like, "I'm afraid there's been some miscommunication concerning certain responsibilities, and we need to sit down and straighten things out." Take along your copy of the 504 Plan or whatever the school has, and point out where it's the job of the supervising ADULT to make sure he's keeping his kit with him, not him.

But I'm not sure I would even try to be that nice. Jack should be encouraged to take responsibility for his diabetes management, but the fact is that he is SEVEN, and he should not be made to feel like he has failed when he just up and forgets. An adult MUST be at that end of the chain of responsibility, at all times, even when he appears to have it under control himself. It's just like homework and schoolwork, actually: the teacher and parents have to watch over the kids and make sure that nothing gets forgotten or left out while the kids are learning how to handle that responsibility.

Rachael said...

I am so ticked off after reading this. The poor kid is 7 years old? Those dang teachers! I have a lot of respect for teachers, but they are either awesome or ____________ (insert a nasty word of your choosing). WHY would a teacher make someone so helpless feel bad about a disease he has no control over, or even worse make him feel shamed about it in front of all his classmates? There really needs to be a middle ground reform, yes, he has special needs, but that doesn't make him a "special needs" child. He is probably smarter than every kid in his class.

Tell me the name of this teacher and I swear I will fly there and egg her house! Stupid ------! (add another name)

HUGS to you, I am so sorry you have to deal with such an ignorant, mean, and petty teacher. Your family deserves better!

Lorraine of "This is Caleb..." said...

Okay, I am late to this party, and am very interested to know what has happened since.

My two cents - this is complete hogswallop. (That's the G version of what I really want to say).

I am so steaming, I probably haven't read this post completely, but if it were me, and frankly it HAS been me, I would not hesitate in the slightest to be direct and clear that although, yes we want these kids to be encouraged to be autonomous - THEY ARE KIDS!!!!!! IT IS THE ADULT'S RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT THESE DETAILS ARE TAKEN CARE OF. Oh my gosh if Caleb was reprimanded in the same situation, I might have been arrested for my reaction, so I commend your husband for keeping his cool.

Caleb's K year was ridiculous - teacher pointing to the nurse, nurse pointed to the teacher. We got through it and ended up with a new, fabulous nurse who has made all things good with the world. But it took effort to get through some thick skulls that Caleb's diabetes is THEIR responsibility. There was a fire drill last year and a substitute told Caleb "he forgot" to take his sling. NO HE DIDN'T!! He did what he was supposed to do - get in line and slowly exit the building. The next day I was on the phone with the principal.

I understand that it's a fine line - a fine line of autonomy and proper supervision. I fine line of not upsetting the teacher so that it isn't taken out on your son. But you can (although you probably already have) address this in an adequately diplomatic way that ensures everyone knows that your son is not to be blamed for this.

I've totally hijacked your post. But I feel so strongly about the staff being aware of their need to not only provide for our children's physical, but also EMOTIONAL health. This teacher needs to understand the damage her actions and words do and she needs to understand it's unacceptable.

If you are interested, I can get you a link to a report on the importance of caring for a diabetic's emotional health at school. Just email me.

So sorry Heidi. That garbage stabs me in the heart. Well that's how you opened this post up, right - you are heartbroken. :( Me too.

Mommy Meryl said...

Wow. . .don't even know where to go with this. While I am not a "real" teacher during the week, I teach on Sundays because I love it and have to tell you, cannot even imagine a teacher having that response. Makes me really sad.

But more importantly - perhaps this need to be an IEP of sorts. . that way legally the responsibility falls on her/teacher? Just a thought. . .

I don't know. . .I have him for 2.5 hours a week and I have my 2 teenage assistants and I trained at all time to make sure he has his kit - its really not hard.

I get the things about the lunch, homework etc (not that I practice that - I haven't trained allie yet that it is her responsiblity - I do it. . .so how can she be blamed if I forget to pack something. . .I don't get that logic. . there is enough to do in a day that as a parent I can make that choice not to make my 8 year old responsiblef or that yet. . .), but this is health and life and death. I do not believe the same logic applies. . .