As a teacher, you will inevitably have to someday face the tough situation of helping your students deal with death.
This could come in a number of forms: a beloved teacher or staff member may pass, or a student may die unexpectedly – or, worst-case scenario, a tragic incident like Columbine could take the entire nation by storm.
Whatever the case may be, it will be your responsibility to help assuage your students’ grief, while maintaining your professionalism and duties as an instructor.
How do you fill those shoes? Here are some tips for teaching despite tragedy, and helping students cope with death:
Take Some Time Out
If you feel that your entire classroom is just “off,” then it is okay to take some time out to devote to addressing the issue of death. Don’t force a tough lesson on students who are overwhelmed by grief. Not only will you not get through to them, but you could even alienate them from you and worsen the situation. If you need to make modifications to your lesson plan or homework assignments, it’s okay.
Acknowledge The Death
Ignoring grief and/or denying its seriousness does not make it go away. Don’t attempt to lessen the pain of dealing with death by distorting the facts. Death is hard to deal with and it causes a lot of emotions, plain and simple. Acknowledge to your students that you understand how painful death is to deal with. Don’t attempt to sugar coat things, either.
Open The Communication Lines
Encourage your students to ask questions. Make them a promise that you will not judge, and then answer their questions as openly and honestly as you can.
No two people deal with grief in the same way, and there is no “right” way to do it. Be patient and understanding of each individual student’s grief process, and avoid comparing students in that regard.
Encourage Active Coping
Active coping involves being proactive about dealing with grief. Basically, anything outside of hiding and ignoring emotions is active coping. Experiment with different activities to actively cope, from talking about it to doing an art project.
Dealing with death is never easy. As a teacher, you are in an especially difficult position when it comes to helping your students cope with a death or other tragedy. You are also in the position to affect a great deal of positive change. Following these suggestions should help you help your students in the best way possible.