Teacher, Caregiver, Nurse, Friend, and Advocate

Parents of young kids with T1D know that sweaty palm, nervous gut feeling of leaving their child with someone new, especially someone new to diabetes. Handing over the diabetes equipment means handing over trust of your child’s consciousness, and over time, his or her long term health. It’s never easy to do this, but for two years, we worked with two amazing preschool teachers who will share their experiences of learning about Type 1 and managing it in a preschool classroom. “Teacher, Caregiver, Nurse, Friend, and Advocate” is by Alexis Johansen.


Diabetes. A word you rarely hear when going through college as an education major. You discuss behavior and disability interventions, teaching strategies, classroom management, and anything else that will prepare you to become a successful classroom teacher.

However, I heard “diabetes” entering my second year of teaching. My co-teacher and I were told we were going to have a child who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in our classroom. I cannot speak for my co-teacher, but my stomach felt very uneasy. I was worried to take on such a huge role with something I knew very little about. Many thoughts ran through my head. How do I care for a child with diabetes? Will I know what I am doing? How are we supposed to keep him safe? And most of all, how do I give him 100% of my care when I have 19 other 4 and 5 year-olds who need the same?

Unlike many public primary and secondary schools, preschools are not usually staffed with nurses, so my co-teacher and I were going to take on the nurse roll. We were in charge of keeping our little friend safe, and really when it comes down to it, alive. His parents put their trust in us to care for their child, while they themselves were still learning about caring for Type 1 Diabetes.

Not only did we have to take on this “nurse” and care giver roll, but we also had to learn to balance diabetes and the rest of the class including Henry. We were still the teachers, we were still Henry’s teachers.

Fast forward two years later, as I near the end of my time with my sweet little Henry, and all the care is now routine. But that wasn’t always the case. I think back to the first couple weeks of school, when we were learning and reading about Type 1 Diabetes. For instance, a typical day for all involved includes the following (keep in mind there is no such thing as a typical day in the diabetes world🙂

  • Between 5-10 finger pricks a day
  • Delivering insulin every day and multiple times a day
  • Counting carbs for lunch, snack, or a special cooking activity
  • Doing a pre-bolus (insuin given before a meal) for lunch along with a combo bolus (insulin given over a duration for high carb and fat foods like pizza)
  • Giving rescue carbs (glucose tabs or juice box for a low at any given point)
  • Correcting a high with an EZBG (more insulin) multiple times during the day
  • Communication with parents via group text, emails, phone calls when needed
  • Countless checks on his monitor, our personal cell phones, or his iPod

I’d say after two years, we have this balancing act figured out pretty well. There are still times where I find myself explaining to another 5 year old what a glucose tab tastes like (a gigantic smartie) or why Henry gets to have a juice box or cheese stick at random times during the day. This is all part of the balancing act. As a class we all come together to accept diabetes as part of OUR norm. This is just part of our day. The kids see us do blood checks, give rescue carbs, and give more attention to Henry at some parts of the day. But do you know what? They don’t think twice about it. They may ask a question or two, but curiosity is what makes our children learn and grow.

As I sit here typing this post, constantly checking my phone to see what his numbers are during rest time, ready to text my staff at any point, it makes realize that I have come to many conclusions and have my own thoughts about diabetes.

First of all, I love FREE FOODS (a no carb food)! The best food there is when you don’t have count carbs, knowing Henry loves them as well. To this day, my heart will always skip a little beat when I see double arrows down on his CGM (continuos glucose monitor). Pizza day is a bittersweet because I know there will always be a high and then there will most likely be a low. Exit signs, pointing with their arrows, will always remind me of Henry and his CGM (a devise used to read his blood glucose with arrows showing which direction his blood sugar is headed). Lastly, I thought Type 1 Diabetes was going to diminish my ability to teach the class, but really it made me the best teacher, caregiver, nurse, friend, and advocate that I could possibly be.

I will not look back and remember the scary lows or the difficult math (not my strong point) when it comes to figuring out carbs in a given meal or treat. I will not look back on the extra time it took to try and fully understand Type 1 Diabetes. I WILL look back and remember that little boy who took every finger prick like a champ, who made lows not so scary, who gave me the giggles when I was stressed out, who was so excited to see his blood glucose numbers (when sometimes I was dreading it), who, in all reality, gave me a whole new outlook on life. No, I will not remember Henry as the child we had with Type 1 Diabetes. I will simply just remember him as my sweet little Henry. A strong little boy who didn’t let diabetes define who he is.

exit signAlexis Johansen teaches in the 4 and 5 year old room at the University of Northern Iowa Child Development Center with her Bachelors in Early Childhood Education. She recently just finished up her third year teaching. Alexis lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa with her newly married husband and her adorable dog that loves to cuddle! When she isn’t at school with her kiddos, she enjoys reading, running, and being crafty at home.

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Lexie and Henry 

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