Kathleen works as a Year 3 teacher at Assumption Catholic College in Mandurah and taught Alexis, who has CF, in her class in 2016. Kathleen came to teaching later on in life. She was inspired to become a teacher because she was frustrated that she couldn’t help her son who has dyslexia. Kathleen has now been teaching for six years. Alexis and her mum Katrina briefly shared their experiences with the school and Kathleen too.
As a busy teacher, how difficult is it to cater for the variety of medical needs that students might have, as well as their educational needs?
It’s not difficult – it’s delightful. I just have to be organised and teach my students that they can do lots of things to be organised too. They are like a corporate body and they all have jobs and they know what they are. The ship sails along beautifully. The kids are brilliant with responsibility.
The medical needs of my students are a top priority. Because I was a mum before I became a teacher I do come from a parents’ perspective first and I think “If this student was my child what would I like the teacher to do?” I think I am always coming from a parents’ perspective first and a teachers’ second. To me I consider the student’s physical and emotional needs first and then their education. With this outlook my students do get good grades too.
In catering for Alexis, we are very careful with hygiene in the classroom. The students are taught about washing and drying their hands properly. If we need to move students away from Alexis due to them having colds, I tell the students “it’s time for a move” so they think it’s part of a whole classroom thing.
Alexis doesn’t specifically tell the students that she has CF, but she has talked to the class about going to hospital.
How have you worked with Alexis and her parents to cater for her needs as a student with CF?
I grew up with a couple of children who had CF, so I had a reference point, but my knowledge needed to be updated. Alexis’ mum came in and explained about Alexis’ needs and our principal also sat in on the meeting.
The school asked Alexis’ mum if she would like to be contacted if there happens to be an outbreak of whooping cough or chicken pox, so she is informed as soon as possible.
This year Alexis needed to go to hospital for a few weeks. She then attended a local hospital to get IV antibiotics three times a day and came to school in between those times which helped keep her in a routine.
While Alexis was in hospital our class sent her emails, pictures and I took photos of the students showing her what we were up to. Alexis sent photos and emails straight back of what she was doing in hospital. We did this every 3rd or 4th day. The school work I gave to Alexis during the time she was in hospital was the same as the class activities but it was a bit modified. I also modified what I was doing in the class so that Alexis wasn’t going to miss too much. The messages the students wrote I included as part of the curriculum for their learning.
At our school we follow the Kath Walker Early Life Foundations learning approach, which is flexible and considers the child holistically.
My main aim is to be a help to Alexis and her parents, not a burden. A week without Alexis at school is too much.
What advice do you have for other teachers who might have a student with CF?
My advice would be to make sure you provide an environment that is helpful and be mindful. It’s of course helpful to have a good relationship with the child’s parents. Definitely teaching the class proper hygiene is useful too.
I like writing the narratives and I like Maths. I feel happy when I come to school. Taking medications is easy because I have to do it at home too so it’s not a big deal. I really liked it when the students sent through their pictures to me when I was in hospital.
Katrina (Alexis’ mum):
When Alexis was in hospital it was great having the communication between her class and Alexis. It also let the other students see that she was ok. Also, after Alexis had her PICC line (for intravenous medications) she was a bit down. When she received the communication from her class it really perked her up.
Alexis has a hype about school now. Even when she is really tired I will give Alexis the option to stay at home and she will insist on going to school because she says “I’ve got things to do”. It’s also been great having the same teacher throughout the year too.