When I started kindergarten, the construction on my school wasn’t complete, so we shared a campus with a nearby school. My classroom was in a portable village in the back field of the other school, and to a kindergartener, it might as well have been in the middle of Manhattan. Everything seemed so big and confusing. Because this was back when kindergarten was still kindergarten, and I built a gigantic block tower back in the blocks center. It was taller than I was! I experienced my first lesson in gravity when crash! the tower came tumbling down and the top block hit me smack on the bridge of my nose. And it hurt. And it bled. And I think I even cried. So my teacher was going to send me to the nurse, and I immediately sucked up my tears and said, “it’s ok, I”m fine” because I had no idea where the nurse’s office was, and the prospect of finding it, even with a little five-year-old buddy holding my hand, was terrifying.
Fast forward a few years and as a teacher now, I realize there are some kids who, unlike kindergarten me, look for every opportunity to go to the nurse. As a beginning teacher of ever-so-clever fifth graders, I really didn’t know how to handle this. Some kids were persistent and believable! I learned so much observing the fabulous teachers on my team. Here are some tips for handling the kid who wants to go to the nurse three times a day:
1. “Make sure you tell your mom when you get home.” I watched a fellow teacher say this to a little girl who had hobbled up complaining of a bellyache. The teacher showed sympathy, felt the little girls forehead, gave a little pout, and said, “Poor baby, make sure you tell your mom when you get home.” Lo and behold, the girl walked away satisfied. I have used that line countless times, and most of the times, it works like a charm! Sometimes, students are just seeking a little bit of attention and sympathy, and this little action of showing that you care is all they need.
The school water fountain must flow with healing water. I can’t tell you how many times a student tells me they feel sick, and I give a look of pity and tell them, “Oh you should go get some water.” And they feel better! It’s miraculous. Send in the lepers. (Too far?)
3. Bathroom Break. Give them a free pass to go to the bathroom. Sometimes students do not even realize that it is gas that is causing their distress. More likely though, just a little extra attention and a quick trip out of class will do the trick.
4. Head Down. “Why don’t you put your head down for a little while and rest a little bit?” I like to think that my exciting, engaging, hands-on lessons will draw students back in, and they will forget their illnesses. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s just a simple acknowledgement and a little bit of special treatment, and they come out ok.
The miracle meal. “Let’s see how you feel after lunch.” Maybe it was they were hungry or needed a blood sugar boost, but usually students forget they were sick.
Just keep a box in your desk. Students will come up to you with the tiniest of cut that you can’t even see. Just give them a bandaid. It’s cheap. It will appease them. Just give them one. Sometimes it is just that little bit of attention that they want. Bandaids make great metaphors, too.
The run-of-the-mill tummy ache is perhaps the most ever present complaint among students. Keep a jar of mints on your desk, and when the student has a tummy ache, whisper, “Do you think a mint would help?” And give him or her a mint like it is a special secret between the two of you. I learned this from one of my coworkers and thought it was genius!
Keep a pump bottle of plain, unscented lotion on your desk. When students complain of an itch or bug bite or similar ailment, look lovingly in his or her eyes, and say, “Why don’t you try a little lotion? That always helps me.” This is also an idea from the same mint coworker.
So many times one of our little dearies is feeling nervous, or missing their mama, or just looking for a little attention. It really doesn’t hurt to give them a little attention, scratch their back, feel for a fever. Let them feel acknowledged and that you care. By doing these and keeping them in your classroom, you are also sending the message that you’re not just gonna send everyone to the nurse because they feel like getting out of class. This isn’t a checklist. If a child is sick, don’t go through each one on the list and check it off as you try it. If you do a couple of these, and the kid is still saying they are sick, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and let the nurse handle it. This is mostly for repeat offenders, you know, the kids who have a bellyache every single day. Or just straight up ask to go to the nurse. Or who hate math and mysteriously get sick every day right before math class. You know what I mean.
Now this isn’t to say that you should never send kids to the nurse. Of course, if a kid is really sick, you absolutely should. These are some that I send to the nurse no matter what:
1. Vomit. Need I explain?
2. Fever. If I can tell a child seems warm, I will send to the nurse to check.
3. Lethargic. If a child just seems to be dragging, putting their head down, and is different than usual, and is saying they feel sick (Not just they stayed up too late) I will send them to the nurse.
4. Sicky Eyes. It’s something I’ve noticed with my own son. You can often see in little kiddies eyes that they don’t feel good.
5. Coughing that won’t stop. It’s one thing if a kid is getting over a cold and has a lingering cough, but when they are coughing uncontrollably, especially if you can hear that bronchial sound, send them.
6. Asthma. Don’t mess around with asthma, people. When my little brother was a second grader, his teacher thought he was just trying to get out of class and didn’t send him to the nurse for his inhaler. He ended up being airlifted to Orlando and hospitalized for several days because of it. He even missed trick or treating that year, which as a kid, that made it seem extra serious. So if I know a kid has asthma, and they ask to go to the nurse, I don’t even ask questions, they just go.
7. Creepy Crawlies. You know what I’m talking about. In the hair. Then I send myself to the nurse, too, for a quick check during planning time.
8. If something is going around. If I know everyone in the child’s family has strep throat, and he is complaining of a sore throat. Send him. And if everyone at one table has gone home sick, and a nearby student suddenly looks green, send him.
When you got into teaching, you didn’t know that nurse was part of your job description, huh? Here’s a fun article I found on the Johns Hopkins School of Education website. It is about the many hats teacher’s wear, including nurse, but lots of other great ones. Check it out. The Many Hats of a Teacher.