Secret Teacher: nothing could prepare me for the death of a student

Your training equips you for lots of scenarios that may arise in the classroom, but nothing prepares you for what to do when you discover one of your students is dying – or to break the news to a group of children that their classmate had died, writes the Secret Teacher in The Guardian.

Once I knew that Katie’s* prognosis was bleak, I found myself trying to brace the other children for the looming heartache. I also wanted to make their time in the classroom filled with happy memories. Building relationships was crucial; after all, they were going to need each other for support and friendship to help them cope.

Prior to telling them that Katie had passed away, I sought the expertise of our on-site psychologist and social worker. They volunteered to speak to the class, but I thought strangers would only confuse and potentially alarm the children further, so I opted to speak to them myself. I was still processing the information and dealing with my own grief, but I felt I knew my students best.

It had been decided that after Katie passed away returning to regular routines would probably make it easier for all to move forward, but in the run-up I had felt it was crucial to focus on the wellbeing of my students along with strengthening their relationships and skills of resilience. I wanted them to band together, not drift apart.

Wherever possible we worked in groups, sharing our ideas and opinions with the aim of achieving a common goal. I organised team-building exercises, to help us to empathise, take turns and support each other. I wanted to ensure that the children felt safe and as though they belonged so they were comfortable expressing their loss. Katie also became a source of inspiration for the creative arts, where pupils were able to reminisce about her unique qualities.

The experience taught me that that you can never be fully prepared for a situation such as this – imparting the news was the most gut-wrenching day of my career – or predict how any student will respond. But I learned that sometimes it’s essential for the wellbeing of our students to close the books temporarily. And when I think about how I had to sit my class around the mat to tell them that Katie had passed away, I’m reminded that I shouldn’t take a single day in the classroom, or my students, for granted.

Read more Secret Teacher: nothing could prepare me for the death of a student

Have you experienced this sad and difficult scenario in your classroom? How did you and your pupils prepare and deal with it? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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