• Chloe James

Teaching with Epilepsy- How to tell your colleagues

Updated: Jan 14

Hi, I'm Chloé and I have epilepsy. What's your name?

No, this is not the way I introduce myself and I’m betting most people with epilepsy don’t introduce themselves this way either.

However, being in a workplace that requires you to rely on you to keep others safe, like teaching, does require transparency around your epilepsy diagnosis.

Does this mean you have to open with it at your interview?

Big nope! I can’t think of a single interview I’ve been in that it’s come up, or that I’ve brought it up. I have had one job offer that was prefaced with a question about it because one of my referees referred to it, but my job didn’t depend on my answer. They can’t not hire you because of epilepsy, but you don’t have to go away wondering if that’s why they didn’t. So if you don’t want to mention, legally (here, at least), you don’t have to mention it.

Telling schools on placement at teacher’s college

When I was at teacher’s training college, I decided early on to only tell my lecturers. Then I had a massive seizure in front of everybody and BAM my plan for controlling who knew went up in smoke.

On my first placement, teacher’s college made sure that I informed my associate teacher and my principal. I also decided to tell my class, and used it as a teaching tool (more on that later!), but I still decided to not tell any other staff members. On that placement, I had a seizure that scared the heck out of a teacher from next door. Luckily, my associate was there and knew what to expect, but if she hadn’t been there things could have gone differently.

I decided on my next placement to tell ALL the teachers, and even handed out my seizure plan to them all. Unfortunately for me, it was a primary and secondary combined and I missed somebody out when telling people. After a particularly scary seizure (in which everybody followed the plan and knew what to do thanks to being informed), the person who hadn’t been told demanded that I leave the school.

From that point on, I decided that everybody knowing was better than the wrong person not knowing.

So, on my final placement, I got up in front of the entire staff at the first meeting we had and I told them all about epilepsy, what to expect, and gave them a detailed explanation of what to do if I had a seizure. I gave them free-reign to ask questions, and offered a hard copy of my seizure plan. I wasn’t about to take any more risks!

How I tell the staff at schools I work at now

As soon as I can, I will inform my principal and management team. I give them a copy of the seizure plan and make sure they know what to do.

From there, I try and tell all the staff at once if I can. This makes it easier for me to know that everyone gets the information that I need them to have, at the same time, and that I haven’t missed anyone out. Again, free-reign to ask questions is important for me, as I want people to feel comfortable in knowing they could help if anything happens.

Most schools I have worked at since graduating have been great, and supportive when seizures have occurred. While some did overreact at one particular school, they were aware of what needed to happen and that was important.

Tips on telling your colleagues

  • Be open and honest: in general, the more people know, the more confident they will feel. You want people to feel confident and comfortable to be able to help you. Most times, I’ve been met with care and support when telling colleagues. At the end of the day, you need to be safe and it’s more important that they know how to help you than what they might think of you.

  • Have an action plan ready: this is a great way to show schools that you are managing your condition in a professional way. Even if it’s brief or a work in progress, having something to show your school team that can help them support you and tells them what YOU want to happen if you have a seizure will make them and you feel more comfortable. Any anxiety you can ease for yourself is a bonus for seizures as well!

  • Send out your information via email: If getting up in front of everyone is unrealistic, or if you’d rather get a root canal than stand in front of your entire team of colleagues and tell them you’re epileptic, then an email to the whole staff is a great way to manage information that your colleagues need to know.

  • Find and use your local advocacy group: if you are feeling overwhelmed with how to handle your diagnosis with the other staff at your school, contact your local epilepsy advocacy group for advice. In some cases, someone can even come along with you when you tell them and help explain the situation. I have used this option before when telling certain classes!

Not every school is the same, and not everyone will react the same when you tell them. At the end of the day, you need to be safe and feel comfortable in knowing that you are in the best situation possible.

Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

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