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When the Unexpected Happens

November 10, 2010

I wrote this post a while ago, but had my doubts on whether to publish it or not. Last Sunday, I came across this link on twitter: “I am a high school teacher. Yesterday one of my students was killed. What do I do in class tomorrow?“, I was so moved that I decided to share my story.

September 15th was a really sad day for us at school. A teacher died from a heart attack during our lunch break. It was just one of those situations you’d never expect to happen. I barely knew Mrs. A. I had only seen her  a couple of times, but those few times were enough for me to know she was a passionate teacher, an educator who taught with her heart.

Everyone at school loved her, so the news spread really quickly. It was heartbreaking seeing my students crying. They had so many questions. They are too young to be dealing with death already… To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. I had never been in a situation like that before. I’d try to comfort one kid, but then another would be crying a few steps away. I didn’t know what to tell them and I was really sad too.

Stepping into my classroom, that day, was a real challenge. I was afraid, yes. I was sad, yes… but I couldn’t stop thinking about my students and how they were feeling. I had no choice but to trust my instincts, there is no lesson plan nor teacher training for that. I felt like a magician pulling out a magic trick bag in order to go on.

I decided to explain to them what had happened and I answered all of their questions. We prayed together and talked about her for a while. I made sure to focus on the good memories. I told them there was a new angel looking after them from that day on. This helped a lot, I could even see some of them started feeling better, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to see them smile again.

I then thought of our class blogs; if there’s one thing that makes my students happy is our blogs.  So I decided to read to my students some of their posts and comments they had received. It was then, when I felt something different in the air. I could even see some changes on their faces. Soon after, they even smiled faintly and I could tell they felt slightly better.

Classes were canceled that day, so while we were reading our posts; many kids were being picked up by their parents. It was an awfully weird day. After some time there were only 6 students left in my classroom. So, we sat together on the floor and started talking. They kept asking me questions about me when I was kid and after sometime I could even tell they were enjoying it…

When I told them we should get ready to go home, none of them wanted to leave. I was a bit surprised.  They even told me: “No, let’s stay here talking“;”I don’t want to go” ; “Please let’s hang out together a bit more” and things like that. Of course it was one of the saddest days in my life, but I somehow felt a bit better knowing I had helped those kids cheer up. I owed this to Mrs. A…

32 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2010 10:26 pm

    Greta, what a moving post! I will never forget when you told me about what happened on this day. I’m glad that you decided to blog about it. I’m also really glad that those students had you there to comfort them on such a trying day. You’re an amazing teacher, and your students are lucky to have you!


    • November 11, 2010 10:03 am

      Thanks so much Aviva! I still remember how much you supported me that day. It took me a while to finally post it, I’m so glad I did!
      Thanks for your kind words Aviva, you’re awesome! You really helped me feel better that day, I really appreciate it!

    • November 13, 2010 1:53 pm

      I can only second what Aviva and others have already said. Very moving, and I am amazed at how you empathized so well with your students. Thanks for sharing!

      • November 15, 2010 2:03 pm

        Thanks so much Jessica! It means a lot coming from a wonderful educator like you. Thanks for your support!

  2. November 10, 2010 10:32 pm

    What a beautiful post. Unfortunately those sad days happen to many of us. I’ve had several that are very difficult to forget. But, through the sadness, new life, kinship and bonds between teachers and students seem to develop.

    Your post has caused me to reflect on several students who’s lives were ended way too soon. Thank you for the opportunity to recall the happy memories.

    Peace, my friend!


    • November 11, 2010 10:06 am

      Thank you Kathy! I agree with what you said through sadness new things develop…
      It’s good to reflect on past experiences, there’s always so much to learn. Thanks again for your support and kind words. Love having you in my PLN!

  3. marisapavan permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:00 pm

    It’s a really moving story, Greta. Very few of us, let alone kids, are ready to face death. Anyway, you’ve had a great mission: to offer support and strength to those children and you did a wonderful job. These hard experiences make us grow a lot. We are never the same after going through them.

    • November 11, 2010 10:08 am

      Thanks so much Marisa! You’re right, we are never the same after going through this experiences. We grow and learn so much from them. Thanks again!

  4. kim permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:07 pm

    i am so sorry for your loss. it’s terrible when something like that happens, especially when it occurs at school.

    are all of your students christian? do you teach in a private school? as a nonchristian i would have felt alienated and left out by praying at school, especially in such a grievous time.

    • November 11, 2010 10:16 am

      Thank you Kim. It was a terrible day…

      Yes, I teach at a private school and all my students are Christian. I totally agree with you, praying wouldn’t have been the right thing to do if all my students weren’t Christian. It could have made them feel left out. Thanks again for your comment.

  5. November 11, 2010 12:55 am

    Thank you for sharing this experience! It’s a struggle for students to deal with death. Happy you were there for them.

    • November 11, 2010 10:17 am

      Thank you Shelly! I agree it’s a struggle to deal with death. I’m glad I helped them feel better. Thanks for your support and comment Shelly!

  6. November 11, 2010 1:12 am

    Thank you, Greta, for being a caring, loving teacher for your students! A lot of people would have thought about keeping that “line of professionalism” between teacher and student, but your kids needed you to be empathetic, sympathetic, loving… and human. What a great example you are! 🙂

    • November 11, 2010 10:24 am

      Wow, Michelle. Thanks so much for your words. I agree with you some people would have thought about keeping that line of professionalism, but the only thing I felt like doing was comforting them. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, but it helped them and that’s what matters most. Thanks again Michelle!

  7. Gail permalink
    November 11, 2010 1:19 am


    Thanks for sharing this post. It is so hard to know what to do in situations like this but you trusted your instincts and helped your students through it. Lucky them to have you!

    • November 11, 2010 10:26 am

      Thank you Gail! I really appreciate your words! Helping my students deal with this was all I cared about. I made them feel better and I’m glad I could.
      Thanks again for your support! It means a lot!

  8. November 11, 2010 11:44 am

    Dear Greta,

    This is my first time at your blog and what a moving first time it was. Thank you so much for sharing.

    This isn’t something I’ve ever brought up before but when I was 17, my first real boyfriend died of cancer. It took a couple of years from the time he was diagnosed to when the inevitable actually happened, but still, it shocks you none the less. I was lucky enough to be with my parents when it happened and they did all the right things and supported me as best they could. My point in telling this is not for any self-indulgent reason at all – but for my following point.

    You say that perhaps the children were too young to be dealing with death, and I totally understand what you mean. However, it’s also something that children seem to be fascinated with. They ask questions about how we die, what happens to our bodies and when we’re all going to pop our clogs 🙂 (an expression in the UK). It’s the one certainty in life yet so often the emotions associated with it are totally unexpected.

    In my humble opinion you did your students an amazing service that day, even if you felt like the magician. You have given them an experience far more valuable than any academic lesson could have provided. You gave them a template – “this is a healthy way to cope when someone dies”. You talk, you cry (sometimes for a long time) and you talk some more. There may be one day later in these children’s’ lives when they also have to say goodbye to someone they care for – as in my situation at 17. Thanks to the amazing example you have set them, they will at least be able to draw on the moving and thoroughly valuable experience YOU gave them, the day that Mrs A. died.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Reading back, I hope this hasn’t made your blog too depressing 🙂

    Emma x

    • November 12, 2010 10:21 am

      Wow, Emma. Thanks so much for sharing your story with me. It must have been really hard to go through that. You were lucky to have your parents’ support. Your story has really touched me.
      Thank you for your words too, it really means a lot to me. I was really lost that day and seeing my students so devastated made me feel even worse. Looking back on it, I’m glad I was able to help my students feel better. It was sad and tough experience, but I’ve definitely learned a lot from it. Thank you very much for opening your heart and sharing your story.

  9. November 11, 2010 12:52 pm

    Dear Greta,

    Thank you so much for telling this story. You faced a very difficult situation with grace, warmth and professionalism. You were a fantastic role model for your students who learned to face a tremendous loss with grief, but also that life goes on and grief, while part of life, is not its dominant theme.

    While it is important to have professional boundaries in relationships with students, it is those times that we connect as human beings sharing that make the biggest impression on students and teachers alike. Your students were lucky to have you at that very difficult time, but you were also lucky to have them.

    • November 12, 2010 11:00 am

      Thanks so much Deven! I liked what you said: “you were also lucky to have them”… yes, I helped them feel better, but they also helped me. I have such a wonderful class.
      I agree with you, this was one of those times where we connected as human beings; even though it was a sad experience, it has helped us connect in a deeper way too. Thanks again for your words Deven, it means a lot coming from an amazing educator like you. I really appreciate it.

  10. ritasimsan permalink
    November 11, 2010 9:42 pm

    Two very different, very difficult days in my teaching career-the first when our junior high school librarian, and my friend, committed suicide. The library door remained closed yet school went on. Trying to talk to our students about something I couldn’t even comprehend was almost unbearable and nearly impossible.
    The second, 9/11, working with adult ESL students from all over the world, promising to keep everyone safe, and not allowing anyone within our walls to point fingers at a group or single member of our ESL family while fear, hatred, and blame echoed through the world.
    We are products of our experiences whatever they may be as are our students.

    • November 12, 2010 11:17 am

      Thanks for sharing your stories Rita, I really appreciate it. Both of them must have been so tough… I guess, we are never prepared for those situations, but like you said “we are products of our experiences whatever they may be…” Those experiences make us grow and help us face life in a different way. Thanks again for your comment!

  11. November 12, 2010 10:24 am

    I think you have upheld the memory of this teacher by writing with compassion.

    • November 12, 2010 11:17 am

      Wow, thanks so much for your words! It means a lot!

  12. November 12, 2010 8:40 pm

    Dear Greta,

    What a moving story! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. You had to deal with a very difficult situation which is not taught in books. I’m sure Mrs. A… wherever she was, she was very proud of having a co-worker dedicated and passionate for her work like you.

    • November 13, 2010 12:08 am

      Thank you for your words Lu. It seriously means a lot. We have definitely learned a lot from this experience. Thanks again for all your support. Love having you in my PLN.

  13. November 18, 2010 2:23 am

    I’m glad that you shared this post. Last year one of my dear friends and a second grade teacher at our school died suddenly and unexpectedly while she was writing sub plans in her classroom for the next day. There was such a huge sense of loss and devastation for all of us. Her students took it particularly hard. We didn’t have school the next day but all the teachers gathered anyway. The most amazing thing happened, every student showed up to school any way. They wanted to be together as a school family. To share memories and pray together. We are a church/school combined and Val’s funeral was held a few days later right there with the whole school body in attendance. She made such a beautiful lasting impact on us all.

    • November 18, 2010 9:45 am

      Thank you for sharing your story Kelly! I’m so sorry for your loss. It must have been really hard.
      I’m amazed by what happened. Sounds like your school has a pretty special community. Students keep amazing us all the time. You’re so right, your friend made a beautiful lasting impact on you. She must have been a wonderful person and educator. Your story is really touching! Thanks again!


  1. links for 2010-11-12 | MYAM's Blog
  2. Dear Class… « About a Teacher
  3. My 2010 Most Memorable Teaching Moments « About a Teacher
  4. So Long, Farewell… | Mrs. Caldwell's Class

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