A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation on how to cope with grief in the classroom. I thought this presentation was going to be about strategies and ways in which we as teachers can help our students cope with grief. Instead, the presenter Sylvia Keall gave a lot of great information of what grief looks like, how it never ends and how teachers can be there to support their students rather than fix them.
The reason why I wanted to attend this particular presentation was because when I was 14 years old, I lost my mom to cancer. It was the most difficult time in my life, but when I think back to how my teachers supported me I cannot help but feel extremely grateful. At the time I felt as though I had this giant sticker on my head saying “DEPRESSION, DEPRESSION”. My friends would tiptoe over my feelings and anytime my mom’s name was mentioned I would break down and cry. But it was with my teachers support that allowed me to make it through the rest of my high school career. They never treated me differently, I still had the same deadlines and expectations as did the rest of my class. However, they did know when I needed some time alone, often allowing me to take quick breaks to get out of the classroom and clear my head. They were there when I needed someone to vent to, this often took place in my English classes where I could write journal entries or letters to them, that way I got everything out. They knew to do this without my dad or me saying it to them. I never recognized any of this at the time, but they are huge reason why I wanted to become a teacher.
It has never been easy for me to share how I felt during this time because I had so many emotions. Sylvia’s presentation opened my eyes to just how great my teachers treated me. During my internship I had a student whose cousin passed away suddenly and I could not find a way in which I could support her. I kept my distance, I let her hand in assignments when she was ready, but I never had a conversation with her. Why? Because I knew what it was like to be on the other end, but being on the “teacher” side left me feeling extremely helpless. I was hoping that by going to Sylvia’s presentation that I would have the magic answer on how to help students cope with grief, but instead I left feeling satisfied. I know that if I do have a student who suffers a loss, supporting them in their everyday lives is just as important as that “magic solution”.
I was not going to write about this particular topic because it does hit so close to home, but something changed my mind. Today my dad and I donated 12 black garbage bags of my mom’s clothing to my hometown school for their clothing drive. We had been hanging onto them for some reason, but when I found out that the school was doing their clothing drive (the same school my mom was principal at) I realized that this is why I couldn’t let go. I did not just want to give them away to anybody, I needed a reason to. This school helped my cope with the loss of my mom 7 years ago, and now it was allowing me to let go of something that I was hanging onto for so long. So I decided to write this post to say thank you to all the staff at Broadview School for getting me through the toughest time of my life and helping me get to where I am today.