Back to School As a Teacher Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Community Member

Starting back to school as a teacher diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis always comes with some apprehension.   As a teacher, I am on stage for four to five hours at a time and all attention is on ME.    If I show signs of rheumatoid arthritis through limping or not being able to lift a classroom book without trouble, I get questions from my concerned students.   Since my teaching gifts seem to be best fitted in the beginning/intermediate levels of adult ESL (English as a Second Language), explanations to my limited English proficient students about rheumatoid arthritis are often lost on them.   Just when I think they understand what I am talking about, I realize they have no idea. I am actually a little excited this year to be able to share of copy of   RA Guy's " 60 Seconds to RA" in Spanish with one population of my students. Now I just need it in about ten other languages and I will have my students understanding why some days are more difficult than others.

Right now I am very fortunate that I am feeling well and hopefully this year will not be a school year without rheumatoid arthritis in the classroom, but as we all know rheumatoid arthritis can show its ugly head at any time.   When and if it does show its head it could once again mean waking up earlier in the morning to allow time to shower and dress myself.   It could mean I will feel worn out before ever getting to my classroom due to joints that weigh me down.   It could mean struggling to lift my arm to the board because of the pain/stiffness and even could mean I won't be able to keep hold of a white board marker between my stiff fingers without it falling out of my hands.   Oh, and bending down to get that marker off the floor is awful, especially when my swollen fingers won't pick it up once I am finally bent over.  That is truly embarrassing.   It could mean I need to balance standing still long enough I don't have to limp around the room with standing still too long that my legs then won't move.   It could mean considering whether sitting at my desk is worth stuggling to pull myself up in front of my students later in the class.

Starting school with my rheumatoid arthritis under control is going to be a completely different scenario than starting back to school the last two to three years when I was in a neck to toe flare.   This year I see myself quite capable of carrying my book bag which many men have lifted and commented on the heavy weight.  I will be able to climb the four flights of stairs to my classroom (why take the elevator when you are feeling great?).   lso, I feel full of energy that I will be able to put into fun, meaningful lessons rather than worrying about just getting the necessary lessons and paperwork complete.

As I start back to school this year I also have the added benefit of knowing that my rheumatoid arthritis has been shared with my peers and supervisor.   For years I hid my rheumatoid arthritis, not out of fear of losing my job, but not wanting to make it the focus of who I am.    However, a day came when it could no longer be hidden.   Teachers started asking me questions about why I was limping and why I brought my own food to all day in-services.   My supervisor who I don't see often noticed a decline in my body and asked questions.   When I returned to an all day in-service in August after being off work for a month this summer, my peers and supervisor not only asked about my rheumatoid arthritis, but also complemented me on how healthy I look.   I am a little vain because I can never hear too much of that kind of talk    Their questions and complements meant a lot to me.   They meant to me that they care for me as one of their peers and genuinely want to know that I am well and if not, they are more than willing to help me.   This is a good feeling and one that I am excited to add to my reasons for loving my job.

Cathy can also be found writing at her personal blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo.