I wish I had written this letter in the fall, when school started. As a teacher, you are the next most important and influential person in my child's life. As the school year ends, cards and gifts will flow to you with words of gratitude and how teachers change the world one child at a time. I appreciate your endless hours, thankless moments when you are up until midnight preparing for the next day. I am grateful for your ongoing education and creativity in finding ways to make old subjects sound new and fresh. For these things, I am forever grateful.
Teachers are some of the most important people who walk this planet. Since you are so very important in my child's life, I should have explained that when you exclude my child with life-threatening food allergies during activities and celebrations, the impact goes far beyond the blurry eyes trying to hide tears.
My child's heart breaks.
My child interprets the exclusion and inconvenience of her health issue as a loud and clear rejection. You are a hero. You bring new adventures, ideas and concepts. Students leave your classroom packed with knowledge and excitement for the next year. My child also leaves feeling deflated and her admiration for you is so strong, she would never tell you how hurtful and painful the year was. Let me explain what exclusion has meant to my family over the years:
How to EXCLUDE a student with life-threatening food allergies
- Mention in class that due to food allergies we CAN NOT eat xxx. Food allergic students can feel shame when their disease is holding back their class from something special. Wouldn't you feel shame too that your existence puts a damper on those around you?
- Send out a flyer or email about a party and omit friendly reminders of the allergens in the classroom. My child feels that you don't care enough about their health to ask for policy to be honored and remembered.
- Do not speak directly to the food allergic student regarding food-related celebrations. Simply plan the treat focused party and wait for the parents or child to speak up. Again, this sends the message of you don't care.
- Segregate the student during celebrations to keep them separated from allergens. My son asked once about the difference between the black and white segregation and food allergies. Segregated by disease? Maybe?
- Consume a special treat in front of my child without making a solid attempt to provide something that would work for all the students in the classroom.
I know managing food allergies in every classroom is not simple with an easy one size fits all solution. I realize there are kids with autism, diabetes and religious beliefs that need to be addressed. This problem is perplexing to all of us, hence, why we are desperate for a cure. As the disease grows, so do the problems. Until a cure is found, we are all affected. I should have asked and helped you to better understand inclusion and what it means to my child. This is my fault and I take responsibility. I don't expect you to understand the in's and out's chronic illness and the effects.
How to INCLUDE a student with life-threatening food allergies
- Teach your class about life-threatening food allergies in the beginning of the year. Use this situation as a time to teach compassion, diversity and problem solving. No shaming--just be matter of fact.
- Communicate regarding food-related celebrations and activities by reminding parents and students of the allergies managed within the classroom. During special events, protocol seems to slip away and everyone forgets the guidelines.
- Speak to your food allergic student (if age appropriate) or parent prior to an event and work out a solution. For example, before the ice cream party is announced, discuss a Popsicle party or some other type of celebration. Bubble and paper airplane parties are very popular these days--and they don't involve food.
- Enjoy allergen-safe foods together. You have no idea of how many times my child has sat, broken hearted at my kitchen table detailing how everyone in the class enjoyed something special and they did not have the same experience. It especially hurts when the other kids tell my child how great the treat is and too bad for my child. They wish you had a treat or activity that included the whole community to enjoy together.
As you can see, you are very special, loved and important in my child's life, but I failed to teach you how important you are and when you exclude, my child's heart and spirit breaks. Next year, I promise to have this conversation with you before school starts. It only takes a few moments to include a child by typing an extra sentence or re-phrasing a word and tapping into your intelligence to find great solutions. Thank you again for your endless hours of unsung work and for being special in my child's life.
Next year, together, we'll do this right.
A mother of a child who adores you
visit Gratefulfoodie.com for more food allergy conversation