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Death, Cancer, and Teaching

Tomorrow our school is dismissing 15 minutes early so that we can attend a memorial service for the father of 3 of our students.  This family has been an integral part of our school culture since their oldest entered Children's House in 2003.  Their father had Multiple Myeloma since I first started at the Montessori School.  It will be wonderful to be part of a crowd of supporters.

Last week one of my students asked me about Leukemia.  Our conversation ended up at the computer, looking up definitions.  That student's cousin was just diagnosed.

Cancer and other serious illness touches many of our students' lives.  Death is part of life and some people experience a close death during childhood.  Sometimes we are coping with a serious illness too.  I remember my 4th Grade teacher being away for a month when she received treatment for breast cancer.  Our class learned "The Rose" and sang it into a tape recorder.  I still know that song and cherish the memory of that "recording session."

It's important that children dealing with such stressful situations have a "normal" place to be.  School gives structure, predictability, engaging distraction, and supportive people for students in crisis.  Don't address the student about what they are going through.  Let them have their privacy.  Let them initiate conversation.  If you have established an atmosphere of warmth and openness, they will come.

The student whose cousin has Leukemia opened up to me, but not to his classroom teacher.  He had a special bond with me.  He noticed my cross early in the year.  He asked about it and we found that we have the same faith.  Don't be hurt if a child does not seek you out.  It is not because they don't trust you.  Everyone is different.  Keep an eye out for children in crisis and keep communication open with parents.  Stay in contact with the school psychologist and administration.

We can't take away the pain, but we can help them make it through.  In this beautiful season of spring, it's tough to be dealing with death.  A few adults in our building lost their mothers this spring, I was one of them.  Now 3 of our students lost their dad.  We need to pray, we need to be gentle with one another, and we need to just go through our days "being normal."

May God bless the souls of the departed and watch over those suffering and afraid.  


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