A Teacher’s Guide to Kids with Type 1 Diabetes


Editor’s Note: This content is a part of Beyond Type 1’s guidebook, which includes guides for everyone who has a type 1 in their life. Check out the rest of our customized guides for the different people in your life here!

Being a teacher comes with the responsibility of taking care of 20-30 children on a daily basis. In your career, you may have a student with type 1 diabetes in your class. Although you may feel overwhelmed about what to expect, there is no need! This guide will make you aware of the conditions of a child with T1D, which will give you a better understanding of how to keep him or her healthy and safe at school.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in their pancreas. People with type 1 are insulin-dependent for life, and must manually give themselves insulin through multiple daily injections or an insulin pump. They must carefully balance insulin, food, exercise and other factors in order to prevent or minimize serious short and long-term complications due to out of range blood sugar levels.

If you have not heard much about type 1, here are some other fast facts—

  • Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is not caused by a lack of exercise or eating too much sugar.
  • T1D is not contagious.
  • There is no cure for T1D at the present moment.
  • Although T1D has also been called “juvenile diabetes,” T1D affects both children and adults.

How can I help?

It is important to remember that children with T1D can participate in all of the same activities as other kids, such as play sports and join activities. They can also eat sweets and any other type of food/drink, as long as they are giving themselves the appropriate amount of insulin to cover the meal. Some foods affect blood sugar levels differently than others.

Communicate with parents and staff

You can also breathe a little easier knowing that you have the support of other staff at your school, as well as the child’s parents and school nurse. It’s a good idea to verify that communication of care details have happened amongst staff members. Together, staff and parents can create the most effective and helpful system for the child.

Learn to recognize hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia

If a student isn’t acting like himself, have his blood sugar level checked. If you recognize that your student has symptoms of highs (hyperglycemia) or lows (hypoglycemia), make sure that they take the right steps to feel better, such as go to the nurse for assistance or take the time to eat a snack in the classroom.

High symptoms: nausea, deep sighing breaths, confusion, flushed and warm skin, drowsiness
Low symptoms: shaky, pale and sweaty skin, headache, hunger, weakness, trembling

Notify parents of a change in schedule

Last minute changes happen all the time at school. For example, a student may bring in treats for his birthday, or gym class time might be changed. It is important to let the parents know of any changes so your student can adjust accordingly. Remember that food and exercise have big impacts on blood sugar levels.

Be flexible with special arrangements

When your T1D student is not feeling well, they may need alternate arrangements to make them feel better at school. You should discuss this with the parents at the beginning of the year to discuss more bathroom privileges or other test taking options.

Know about the necessary T1D items

Your student will most likely always have a few items within their reach to keep track of their T1D throughout the day. These can include a blood glucose meter, fast-acting sugar to treat a low, and insulin pens or supplies for a pump. Also, a student may have a small device paired with their continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or their pump that they use to deliver insulin or track levels. It is not a cell phone, they are actually checking up on themselves!

Anything and everything affects blood glucose levels

Stress, exercise, weather and sicknesses are just a handful of things that can impact blood sugar levels. Know that a student could be fine at one point, but be headed for a low (hypoglycemia) within minutes.

Treats are allowed, as long as the carbs are covered with insulin

If a student brings in a sweet treat for a birthday or holiday party, you don’t need to worry about your T1D student. You can come up with a plan for the parents on how to handle these situations, and make sure that the carb count of the food is available for you to give to the student.

Educate the rest of the class on T1D

As a person with T1D, it can be a lonely and isolated experience. Allow your other students to know more about their fellow classmate by teaching them about T1D. You can also explain to the class what certain T1D devices are, and why the student might need a snack during the day. A little education goes a long way!

Learn about school presentations.

Keep emergency supplies in the classroom

Plan with your student’s parents to create a low box to keep in the classroom at all times in case of emergency. Or if student is older and rotates classrooms, you can anticipate that they will carry snacks of fast-acting glucose.

See the rest of our customized guides here.

WRITTEN BY BT1 Editorial Team, POSTED 12/08/16, UPDATED 12/26/22

This piece was authored collaboratively by the Beyond Type 1 Editorial Team.