You Can’t Learn When You’re Sick

Anyone who works in a school knows that — from the custodian to the school nurse to the principal to the teacher. Especially the teacher.

My hall pass never rested on its hook by the whiteboard. It traveled to the nurse with Keshia to get her insulin shot right after lunch, to the counselor with Joe as he met with his counselor seeing him for depression, and it went with Emily as she went to the front office to check out for respiratory therapy to treat her severe asthma.

That children deserve to go to the doctor when they feel bad shouldn’t be something we fight about. Yet, I’ve watched for news about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) being renewed and for more than 70 days, nothing has happened. Nine million kids just like the ones who filled my classroom have to try to learn with untreated health problems. Or stay home.

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that nine million children who already struggle from the effects of poverty will have major problems with learning when they can’t even see a doctor. Seriously, ask a teacher.

Ask a history or social studies teacher to explain what happens when large numbers of people have untreated health problems.

Ask a science or health teacher, or a coach to explain how illness — especially chronic illness like diabetes — affects little bodies.

Ask a math or economics teacher to explain what happens to our economy when large numbers of people can’t gain the needed knowledge and skills to participate in it.

Ask Kindergarten and elementary teachers to explain what happens to children’s learning when they’re too sick to learn the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy.

And you didn’t ask me, but I’m an English teacher and I hope everyone of my tribe will take the time to explain that the trait that makes us most human is compassion. The less we cultivate it, the more like monsters we become. We have books and poems about that, if you’re interested.

As teachers, our first moral duty is to protect our students. Advocating for the poorest of them to have access to a doctor when they’re sick is a powerful way to protect their learning.

The ability of America’s students to learn and grow is literally what we build our future upon.


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