Teaching teens about asthma

For several years in a row, I had the opportunity to teach the grade 11 students at the high school I attended about asthma as part of their biology curriculum. Sometimes, the biology teacher was there, others he had me come in so he could actually ensure his students were learning something when he was off on a trip with the Leadership class canoeing or skiing or some such. Teaching these classes was really fun for me, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to hear what these students knew about asthma already, and fill in some of the blanks for them.

I repeatedly joked with my biology teacher, known as “Mr. T” and not for any relation to that Mr. T, after I had him, asking if I could teach his class. One day, he actually agreed and I was like “…What?"

“Yeah,” he said, “Asthma day is coming up."

My own asthma diagnosis was still pretty fresh, maybe six months earlier at that point, but I’d immersed myself in learning as much as I could. So, one day, on my spare, I found myself with a bunch of students just a year younger than me, a PowerPoint up on the screen, and teaching them the basics. A lot of them knew me already, so unlike following years, I didn’t get a ton of questions. A lot of students raised their hands when I asked how many people in the class had asthma—most of the time, we fit in with the statistic that 10% of Canadians live with asthma. I started, or finished, off by playing the Arthur episode about asthma Buster’s Breathless, about Buster, a rabbit who develops asthma and has to deal with his friends not understanding, and thinking that he is contagious—because one way to win over high schoolers is to just let them spend 10 minutes watching a cartoon from their childhood—I was often amazed how stoked they were about it.

I continued doing the presentations at least once, often twice a year for four years. I never really foresaw that I’d be standing in front of a group of pretty attentive teenagers (shocker) teaching them about asthma. One thing that I think helped, though, was I made the stuff I taught practical to students with asthma, and understandable for those who didn’t. I basically shared my story with them, diagnosed at the same age the students in the classes were so that they were aware that yeah, asthma can happen at any time. I made steroid jokes after awhile because hey, why not (to this day, my presentation is called “Not that kind of steroids” ;)—I do explain the difference between metabolic/anabolic steroids and the inhaled corticosteroids those of us with asthma take). We talked about the pathophysiology of asthma (what happens in your lungs if you have asthma), how exercise affects asthma, a bit about the online community, treatments… basically, anything that people should know about asthma. And if I can get a group of high school kids to behave relatively well and be attentive (even with a substitute teacher), then I couldn’t have done too badly, right?

Although I guess it probably helps that anything in my presentation was fair game for their unit test on the respiratory system. ;)

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