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Being a PE teacher with type 1, during coronavirus lockdown: Jon's story

Jon-type1

Jon Peach

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged five

What’s nice about my job is that the students can see that you can still be active when you have type 1 diabetes.

Jon talks about the challenges of managing an active job (a PE teacher) with type 1 diabetes and how he’s adapted to working from home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Life with diabetes

Managing diabetes

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five, so I’m well versed in managing my condition. I use the FreeStyle Libre, which is handy as my job as a PE teacher means my activity levels vary a lot, so my diabetes doesn’t always do what I’d expect. 

My levels are pretty spot on at the moment but that’s not to say they will be in a few days’ time. Since the lockdown I’ve been nowhere near as active. I would usually cycle to school each day, but I’m working from home at the moment and my usual 10-15k steps a day is closer to 3-4k around the house or in the garden. My wife is a nurse so is still going out to work. When she’s at home at the weekends and can watch the children, I’ll try and get out for a run or a cycle. I’m trying to get my little boy to ride without stabilisers so we can go out a bit further together. We’ve also been doing the Joe Wicks workouts, which are great. In fact, I’ve been telling my students to try them, as it’s important they keep fit and active during this time. 

Activity

Work and diabetes

I always wanted to do a job that involved sport, whether that was coaching or teaching. I would’ve been so bored in an office. I did a sports degree at university and teacher training after that. 

For quite a while, I didn’t want to tell anyone I had diabetes. I was worried they’d treat me differently. But wearing a sensor on my arm means that my students often ask what it is. These days I’m much more open about my diabetes, so I’m always happy to have a conversation with them about my condition and what it means. What’s nice about my job is that students can see I still lead a normal life and you can still be active if you have type 1. 

My students are great. I’m on an insulin pump and one day when I was teaching a Year 11 girls’ rugby team, I got knocked over whilst holding a tackle shield. They were really concerned about me. One girl even checked if my pump was OK. I’ve once had trouble in a lesson because I’ve gone hypo and a student needed to get me something from the vending machine. I’ve had times when I’ve gone low and my blood sugar hasn’t come back up as quickly as I would have hoped. When that happens I’ll sit on a bench on the side and say to the children, “Right, could you do this for the next five minutes,” while I recover or just ensure they are in a game situation where I can oversee while a student referees or umpires. 

Keeping on top of blood sugar levels

Managing diabetes when you have an active job isn’t easy, but it’s a case of thinking about everything you might need to help you get through the day and having back up plans. These days, I make sure I’ve got plenty of hypo treatments on me and I try to do lots of testing and scanning, so I’m on top of my blood sugars. It’s also helpful for recognising that there are times when I need to change my basal rate, or put a temporary one in place.

The hardest thing is the surprise of your blood sugars not doing what you expect, I’m always looking for a reason. That can be helpful, but it can also be frustrating. That must be the teacher in me, trying to evaluate where it’s gone wrong, so I can work out how to avoid it next time. That’s part of the problems that come with diabetes, and it’s important not to let it hold you back. I try to remind myself that even people with the best control will have rubbish days. Just because something has worked one day, doesn’t mean it will work the next.

Emotions

Challenges during Covid-19

Daily life is quite different at the moment. Alongside my wife, we’re currently home schooling our little boy. He’s only five so a lot of it is learning through play. We had tears and tantrums the other day because he lost a game of snakes and ladders!

I’ve been working from home since Boris Johnson’s announcement on 16th March, where he advised people with underlying health conditions to avoid social contact. I told my school’s headteacher that I needed to make the decision to stay at home, which was fully supported. When everything came out about shielding I was unsure as to what I was supposed to be doing, but the school said they don’t expect to see me for the foreseeable future. It was really nice to get that reassurance. I have friends with diabetes who I know are having problems. They’re either being messed around by their employers or not being given the support they need.

I don’t think there has been clear enough guidelines from the government as to what people with diabetes should be doing in terms of employment. This then leaves bosses and companies open to forcing you to make the choice as an individual, which could potentially put your health at risk. Do you say ‘I won’t go to work because I’m worried and I know the right thing to do is stay away from everyone, because of the impact this could have?’ However, people have got mortgages to pay.  

For me, the government should be providing guidance and saying if you suffer with certain underlying health conditions not covered by the shielding letters, you should not be mixing, you should work from home, and then ensuring your employer is doing what they can to support you with this. 

I’m quite worried about going back to work. For me, I don’t know how I could teach sports given the close proximity people would be in. In school changing rooms we have between 30 and 40 students. If you had to keep two metres apart, you would fit eight students in a changing room at once. And what about handling equipment? I’m not sure what sport you can do with a class full of students where it can be safe for them and the staff. 

Adjusting to change

As a head of year, I very much have a pastoral role and now more than ever it’s so important for me to be supporting students and their families. I went through a phase of teaching things like the components of fitness and training, but now parents have said they will use that time to get their kids to do some activity. The students are telling me what they’ve been doing, which is great to hear. Maybe it’s a walk with their family or 20 minutes on their trampoline.

At the moment, it’s all about adapting and the most important thing is for families to keep each other safe, and spend time together. 

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