Classes. Homework. Special projects. Even for students who have no health problems
to think about, staying on top of schoolwork can be challenging. So what happens when
you have to miss a lot of school because of illness?
It may seem like missing school will just give you one more thing to worry about.
But that doesn't have to be the case. In fact, if you're like a lot of students who
have cancer or other health conditions,
you may find that studying takes your mind off everything else. Learning new skills
and solving problems are great ways to feel good about yourself and your talents.
Work in a Way That Works for You
When you're sick, you need to find a way of studying that's right for you. What's
right may change from day to day. Some days you'll have the energy to tackle a term
paper. On other days, you'll want to go slow or take a break entirely — and
that's OK. You may not be able to predict which day will be which. Keep a variety
of different projects on hand so there's always something you feel like doing.
It's hard to open the books and get started, but that's true for every student
who sits down to study. Because it can take a while to really get into a project,
plan to keep working for half an hour. That way you'll find out if you're really
not well enough to focus or if you just need to get past the initial hurdle of getting
The last thing you need when you're focused on getting well is for schoolwork to
feel like an extra burden. No one learns well under stress. If you start feeling stressed
out, talk to your teachers.
Tips for Managing Schoolwork
Here are some ways for students who are sick or in
the hospital to keep up with what's going on in class:
Get the facts. Start by asking your doctor how long you're likely
to be away from school. Find out whether your treatments may interfere with your ability
to concentrate, work, and meet deadlines. Knowing this will help you plan ahead and
talk to teachers.
Talk to your teachers. You may need to set a reduced schedule
or shift due dates for papers and tests. School staff can help you plan your workload.
Let teachers know as soon as you find out what your treatment plan will be. The more
notice they have, the easier it is for them to work with you.
If you have to spend long stretches in the hospital or at
home, stay connected to classmates and teachers through social networks, email,
IMs, and texting. You may even be able to Skype into a lesson over the computer.
Some programs across the country offer free or low-cost laptops for students to use
while they're in the hospital. Check with your doctor, social worker, or hospital
IT department to see if there's one nearby.
Set realistic goals. If you'll miss school a lot or you'll be
out for a long time, school staff may give you something called an Individual
Education Plan (IEP). This plan is made just for you and outlines goals and
strategies to help you succeed academically.
IEPs allow for accommodations to be made to your academic load. For instance, your
IEP may limit your amount of homework, allow you to have extra time for tests and
for projects, or give you permission to record lectures or use a laptop to take notes.
Along with an IEP, you might have a 504 Plan. It will address
any physical accommodations you might need, like leaving class a few minutes before
the bell to avoid a crowded hallway, permission to use the bathroom whenever necessary,
or carrying water and a snack to boost your energy during class. Your school might
even assign an aide to help you navigate the school day safely.
Whether you have an IEP or not, stay in touch with your teachers while you're out.
Keep them posted on your progress, and don't be afraid or embarrassed to let them
know if you fall behind in your plan. It's better for your grades to let teachers
know in advance if you can't make a deadline rather than miss it and then try to explain
why. If you find you're able to work faster than your plan, let teachers know that
Ask for help. Parents, teachers, and friends will probably be
happy to assist in any way they can — whether you need tips for managing your
study time or help going over a difficult concept. But people won't know you
need help unless you ask.
Some hospitals and treatment centers have hospital/homebound teachers at the
bedside or in a classroom setting. These teachers can help you keep up with your assignments
and also talk with your school to help you have a smooth move back
to the classroom when you're better. Some students prefer to work with a tutor
or teacher, others like working on their own, and some like a mix of the two. Ask
your doctor, nurse, or social worker what's available.
Keep a calendar of deadlines, test schedules, and other due dates.
Work back from those dates to figure out how much time to spend on different tasks
each week. The more organized you are, the easier it will be to plan ahead for the
times when you're feeling well enough to work (and reduce the pressure you may put
on yourself during the not-so-hot times).
Hit the hallways — or the field— if you can.
If you have to miss classes for an extended period of time but your doctor say you
are well enough to go out for an hour or two here and there, join your classmates
at school plays, sports events, and other social gatherings. It can help you feel
more in touch.
Taking steps like these make it easier to return to school and less likely you'll
fall behind. They'll also give you something else that most high school students don't
get: a chance to learn good planning and study
habits. If college is in your future, you'll already have the discipline needed
to stay self-motivated and study on your own.