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Grieving in the Classroom

By Susanna Thomas

Wellbeing Wednesdays, Kindness Days, Random Acts of Kindness Boards—all present a beautiful picture of a school’s focus on wellbeing. The social curriculum is designed to ensure that we educators raise empathetic, understanding youth, led by the examples set by the teachers and administrators.

However, the true picture of mental health support is revealed when an educator experiences a profound loss, compounded by such intense grief that makes it difficult to function, yet must return to work almost immediately.

One of my best friends ended her 13-year battle with depression during the winter break. The second academic term started only days later. Trainings had to be given, classes had to resume, work needed to be assessed. Where was I to find the mask I was required to don when I could barely get through the day without falling spectacularly apart?

As educators, we are the great performers. We are the supportive surrogate mums and dads, the stern disciplinarians, the wise encyclopedias, the understanding student and parent counsellors… The roles are endless. The nuance of education lies in our ability to push through and perform. We preach kindness, fairness, consideration, and understanding, even though we receive so little of it when it matters.

In the days immediately following my friend’s death I sought support so fervently. I googled and joined support groups. I frantically searched the internet for tips on how to control your emotions in the classroom when grieving. On dealing with teacher depression in the classroom.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of isolating ourselves in an office; there are lessons to be taught, duties to be attended to, tasks to complete. In the end, I had to use my reduced salary to pay out of pocket for a therapy session to enable me to show up to work on the last day of the weekend, as required by the school.

Despite informing the school of my grief, I have not been checked on, nor have I been offered a safe space to discuss my feelings. The cog keeps turning even when you’re paralyzed by your own mind.

Small relief comes in the form of distance learning and the fact that for three days of the week, students are not in the building. For those three days, you can turn your camera off while you compose yourself, you can hide in the toilet for 15 minutes when you would have had your lunch duty. You can breathe.

I’m still searching for the answer to the question of how to keep one’s composure during a class while grieving. Needless to say, there is a dearth of information specifically for educators.

At least the next teacher who has to cope will know that somewhere out there, there was a fellow teacher who sees that struggle, who understands it, and who is hoping to create a safe space for an honest dialogue on true, intentional wellbeing.

Susanna Thomas is a passionate Jamaican educator and animal rescuer currently residing in Dubai. 

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01/28/2021 - Aunt M
Honest, painful and true Sue. My father died 1 month after I started a new job. There was little support from management; I had not yet formed any close relationships at that school. I was offered leave without pay to attend the funeral overseas.
Yes, you have to find your own support network when needed. My 25 years experience in teaching showed me we MUST look after ourselves; many people suck our energies and no-one refills us. Move forward in strength and peace Sue. Love and hugs ?? ?



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