My health and my education are colliding again, or rather my training to be an educator and my health/morality surrounding my health are colliding, conflicting.
In class on Tuesday, we learned about classroom management. I looked at the list of scenarios, two back to back. One student who is a model student, stays in class, participates usually is looking a little pale, has their head down. They ask to go to the nurse. The answer is you let them, they’re not feeling well. Another student asks to go to the nurse. They go to the nurse often. And they’re not looking particularly sick. The answer is you tell them to sit back down, they just want to get out of class.
I had to hold my hand down, grip the edge of the table until my fingers turned white. Seal my lips shut. In retrospect, I should have spoke up. In my mind I’m screaming.
WHAT IF THIS CHILD HAS AN INVISIBLE ILLNESS? WHAT IF THEY HAVE A HEADACHE OR A MIGRAINE? WHAT IF YOU CANNOT SEE THEY ARE UNWELL? Visible illness are not the only illness.
I’ve only been on one side of that conversation, the side of the student. I’ve been told no, that I couldn’t go to the nurse. I knew the assumption was that I was trying to get out of class. That ‘no’ cuts so much deeper. That ‘no’ tells me I’m well, that I’m not sick, that the pain in my head isn’t illness, it isn’t real. It tells me that I’m wasting time, I’m wasting the teacher’s time by asking, that I’m wasting the nurses time by going to her office. I’m wasting my own time, my precious academic learning time. All my time in class was wasted anyway. My head constantly hurt. From when I woke up to when I feel asleep. The only time I seemed not to be in pain was when I was unconscious. I would chase that pain free feeling by swallowing pill after pill. After being denied the nurse, I would bring in my own medicine, a bottle of Aleve sat in the bottom of my bag, stuffed with tissue so it would not rattle. Having medicine without a prescription was against school rules.
While sitting in class, a small voice in my mind replied.
Well, they would have an IEP. (indivudalized education plan for students with disabilities)
But I didn’t have an IEP. My headaches and migraines were woefully undiagnosed. They did not interfere enough with my school work to warrant one. It affected my attendance to the point where I would need piles of doctor’s notes. I couldn’t miss a day of school for anything less than a headache because I needed those days for headache days. But everyday was a headache day. I had to save the days off for the days where the depression was so bad and the pain so bad that I couldn’t move out of bed. I couldn’t make the short few steps to the bathroom or the kitchen, let alone out the door to school. The days where I would cry and cry and roll over back to sleep.
I would just sit in class with my eyes glazed over, my head on my desk, hiding in my sweatshirt or sweater. My teachers would never say anything to me. Never.
Sitting on the other side, in their position. I was probably just a write off. I did well enough that there were more students to worry about. The ones that deliberately cried out for attention, the ones that challenged the teachers, the ones that were failing. My solid B average meant that I was ignored. It was assumed I was okay when I wasn’t. You don’t notice someone who isn’t there. You don’t notice silence.
We’re constantly told we need to build relationships with our students, at least a little bit, we need to know them a little bit, at least something. I try, I do try when I’m at the middle school.
I’m bitter but I realize I am a means of change. I hope every student with migraines has me as their teacher. They need someone who understands. I’ll send every kid who says they have a headache to the nurse because I was never allowed.