In the field of education, there's a common phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” It's used to describe that crippling loss of knowledge and skills throughout the duration of summer, a loss that has the potential to set students back months. As a teacher with cystic fibrosis, I have my own version of the “summer slide” that I try to avoid: a setback in my health that has the potential to take me out of the classroom. I call this the “September Slip.”
Like most teachers, I find that summer is a time for me to rejuvenate. I sleep in, I exercise more and, in general, I take better care of myself. There's a freedom that comes with having the summer off, an openness to my schedule. It's never surprising that I am always at my peak health during these carefree summer days. But once September hits and school starts, it can be a shock to the system. Gone are my days of leisure, replaced instead with a demanding schedule that pulls me in 12 different directions. It's the life of a teacher, and it's easy to get run down. But over the years, I've learned that if I can remember three main things, I can avoid a “September Slip” and stay healthy through the transition back to school.
1. Create a plan of attack
In the week leading up to the first day of school, I sit down and look at this year's daily schedule. By looking at the times, I create my own adjusted schedule for treatments, snacks and medications. Once I know this schedule, I set alarms on my phone since it's easy to get busy and forget; as soon as that alarm goes off, I'm reminded to take care of myself. My plan of attack also involves talking to my teammates and my administrators. When you have CF, you can't be afraid to rely on your village. Mine is an amazing support system that always pitches in when I'm having a rough day on my lungs, need five minutes to fit in a treatment or have to take an unexpected day off. They don't have to, but they always go the extra mile.
2. Train the troops
I spend each day with approximately 50 10-year-olds. There are high-fives and hugs, and along with them, a battery of germs. The only way to survive and thrive is to train my troops. Usually, about an hour into our first day, some of my little darlings determine that there's something that causes me to cough so frequently. (Have you ever noticed how observant children are? Watch them sometime -- it's remarkable!) I try not to overwhelm them with too many details, but I openly discuss with them that I have a disorder that doesn't always allow my lungs to work properly and that I can get sick a bit easier than most people. As they nod with understanding, we talk about how we all need to stay healthy and create a list of things we can do together to create a healthy environment in our classroom. Then, we practice. We practice a lot. We practice washing our hands and covering our mouths. We experiment with fake germs and how they are spread. We review, discuss and then do it again -- because it's important, not just for me, but for all of us. After a few days, they are so well trained that they remind each other of what they need to do. The germs in our class don't stand a chance.
3. Listen, listen, listen
The third -- and perhaps most important -- tip is to listen to my body. Throughout the weeks of transition and busy times during the year, I stop and listen to the messages my body is sending me. If I'm tired, I go to bed much earlier than I normally would that evening. If my weight is dropping, I track my food intake for a week. If my cough or breathing changes, I'm on the phone with my care team for backup. By listening to my body's gentle reminders, I can avoid a more substantial issue down the road.
In a few short weeks, a brand new school year will kick into full gear and bright new faces will greet me at the door. I'm excited to get back to the busy hum of my classroom and know that, together, with my team and students, we'll tackle the transition back to school.