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Health Library

Diabetes Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Diabetes affects how the body uses glucose. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. Glucose levels in the blood are controlled by a hormone called insulin. Insulin is made by the pancreas and helps glucose enter the cells.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Kids and teens who have type 1 diabetes must take insulin as part of their treatment. Insulin is the only medicine that can control their blood sugar levels.
  • Type 2: the pancreas makes insulin, but the body cannot respond to it properly (this is called insulin resistance). Most people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight, since extra body fat causes insulin resistance. Most people with type 2 diabetes do not need to take insulin, but may take a pill to help control blood sugar.

Having too much or too little sugar in the blood makes a person feel sick. Blood sugars can be checked with a blood glucose monitoring system. People with diabetes must check their blood sugar levels regularly throughout the day. Diabetes can be managed through medicine, diet, and exercise.

Students with diabetes may:

  • need to go to the school nurse and monitor blood sugar levels several times a day
  • need to take insulin or wear an insulin pump
  • need to drink from a water bottle in class and use the bathroom frequently
  • need to eat lunch and snacks at a certain time, and eat snacks in class
  • have symptoms of high or low blood sugar. Low blood sugar symptoms include hunger, shakiness, dizziness, headache, irritability, and confusion. High blood sugar symptoms include thirst, frequent urination, nausea or vomiting, rapid breathing, fruity breath, and confusion.

Because bullies often target students who seem “different,” some health conditions, including diabetes, can put kids and teens at higher risk of being bullied.

What Teachers Can Do

Students with diabetes may miss class time or be absent due to doctor visits and hospital stays. Your students with diabetes may need special consideration regarding missed instruction, assignments, and testing.

People with diabetes can exercise and play sports at the same level as anyone else. Regular exercise is an important part of diabetes management. You may want to remind students to check their blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise and to keep a snack handy.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of high and low blood sugar. Keep extra snacks, juices, and emergency supplies in the classroom in case your student starts to have symptoms of low blood sugar.

Make sure your students with diabetes have diabetes management plans and be prepared to respond in the event of an emergency in accordance with the plan.