Now that I’m on faculty at a university (can we just pause and reflect on how amazing that is??), I have a student in my class with a significant chronic illness. She came up to me with some paperwork from the Disability Office asking for some specific accommodations. Now accommodations are annoying to teachers, and I get why. You have some great plan and vision for your class, and all of a sudden some random person comes up to you and says, Sorry. Mandatory change of plans.
But I looked at her sheet and listened to what she had to say and realized that she wasn’t asking for a whole lot. In fact, she was asking for exactly what I asked the ravenous lion for on my very first encounter. She asked for a flexible attendance policy. Attendance is mandatory in my class. You can miss up to 3 classes penalty-free, and attendance counts as 10% of the grade. That’s bad news if you have an unpredictable chronic illness.
What made me really happy was that I was able to sit down with the student and talk through some of the logistics with her. I told her that I was more than happy to give her the full 10% as long as she realized that she was fully responsible for all the content in the class. If she missed a lot of classes, it would be a huge challenge to pass the class. (So it doesn’t really give her much of an advantage.)
But mostly we just talked about life with a chronic illness. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to know about her illness, anything that I could do to make things easier or intervene in the case of an emergency. I told her that I myself have a chronic illness and am familiar with how scary that can seem to other people. And that secret made her really happy.
She said that most people are freaked out when they find out that she’s not healthy and immediately want her to vanish. And so she spends a lot of time thinking about accidentally making other people feel uncomfortable and how she can avoid that. She was really happy to meet a teacher who felt comfortable talking to her about it and who was immediately on her side. She said that she felt so much safer in the class.
I’m so happy that she found me approachable and understanding. I’m still really nervous about my illness and my lack of a Ph.D. in the department and haven’t told anyone at this university about my illness besides her. I know exactly how she feels because I live in that exact same world. But I’m glad that I could make her feel a little more at home in school. And it gives me a comrade too. Someone else who knows that I’m also struggling some and that sometimes, things are not what they appear.