All students (and their teachers) will at some time have health issues ranging from minor colds and coughs to life-threatening conditions. Each will affect their capacity to learn and influence their social behaviour. Apart from dealing with the actual symptoms of the illness, being unwell affects our attention, memory and motivation, attributes necessary for learning. Even before we are aware of our symptoms there are subtle changes in our behaviour as our primitive reptilian brain starts to respond to the threat. We tend to seek being at home and can be more argumentative, particularly with close family members.
Clearly when students are very unwell they are usually absent and any impaired ability to learn is not relevant. However, there are always students coping with the usual seasonal viruses, sniffing and coughing in the classroom. Less commonly, there will be students who are managing chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes etc. As a teacher it is important to be understanding of this and though often there is little in practical terms that can be done, awareness helps us to respond more appropriately to the needs of these students. There are, however, some contexts when more than empathy is required: