Crohn's and the Classroom

I am an elementary school teacher in a Philadelphia private school. I have had Crohn’s since 2006. When I first started teaching at the school I thought, “What do I do if I have to go to the bathroom?” Having a J-pouch, which is essentially a fake colon, I still use the bathroom close to twenty times a day. I was going to have to go eventually but I couldn’t just get up and leave without telling anybody. I knew my principal knew the parameters that came with Crohn’s, but did my students? Should I tell them? Would they understand?

I decided, what did I have to lose? I have to live with this disease for the rest of my life, so I better adjust my life. I sat my students down on the rug; there were seventeen of them. Most of them were scared; they were first graders in a new school. I figured, I would drop down to their level and sit on our “magic carpet” with them. After introducing one another, I began going over the rules of the classroom. I told the students how lucky we were to have a bathroom in our classroom. I also explained to them that this privilege would be taken away from them if they can’t use good bathroom manners. At the end of our chat, I told them that they should never be afraid to use the bathroom. “It is fine with me, as long as you raise your hand,” I told them. Then I told them that Mr. Paul (that’s what they call me) has to use the bathroom more than they would. And I asked them, “Would it be O.K. if Mr. Paul stepped out of the room to use the bathroom?” Of course they all agreed. They also agreed that they would sit in their seats and quietly talk. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

I decided to test out our agreement. I actually had to use the restroom. I told the class, “ I am stepping out of the room.” They all got quiet, and watched me leave. When I returned, I expected my classroom to be in turmoil. I imagined the walls covered in paint, chairs upside down, and the children running around the room. I was completely wrong! I walked into the room, and they all looked at me and smiled. Sure there was talking. Were they loud? No. They were being typical children. I smiled back at them. I knew that I would adjust to the “jitters” of leaving the room every time I had to use the bathroom. I knew that their “jitters” would lessen as the school year progressed. I knew that I would settle just fine with this school. I also knew that I made the right choice.

Wow, my first day at this school was five years ago. Time flies when you are having fun! Back then I was scared to leave the classroom. Now, I don’t even think about it. Everybody in my school knows about my disease. I love working at my school. I think back at that first day and say, “Wow, what would I have done if I never told my students?” Now those first graders are graduating elementary school in June. They too have learned so much about my disease.

These students always ask me questions about Crohn’s, and when they get stomachaches, they run to me for help. I look at them with a smile, and of course I lend my ear and listen! Bottom line is, talk to your students about your disease. Don’t tell them too much that it will scare them, but just enough for them to understand.

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