A death in the family – hard classroom conversations

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

– Abraham Lincoln

Every day I try to bring the world to my classroom. I am passionate about technology in the classroom is to make break down that artificial wall between school and the ‘real world.’ When I look back on my best days of teaching, they have been when there was a meaningful connection to children’s learning and “the real world.”

One of the big changes in education this century has been tearing down the artificial barrier between school and home.  Of course that wall never really existed. We know that our kids come to school each day with all kinds of experiences that affect their learning. Hunger, ill-health, family violence, drugs, insecure accommodation. Pretending that these are ‘out of school factors’ denies the reality that there is no distinction between home and school.

Sometimes I wish that schools really were bubbles insulated from the ‘real world.’ How I wished I had a magic wand to ensure the children inside our classroom could feel safe and protected from the realities that lie outside school gates until they are old enough to handle them. But schools are not immune from misfortune, big and small tragedies affect school communities all the time.

Hidden in every teacher’s job description is that we must help children understand and make peace with the pain and suffering in this world. Often these tragedies are ones the children see on the news’ war in a distant land, disease. The recent plane crashes in this part of the world frequently popped up in classroom conversation. However because the children are removed from the events they are often easy to talk about.

Sometimes tragedy visits my students’ families. At the moment it seems unfair that one of the children in my class is learning that death is not always something that happens after a long life.

Having learned about this student’s situation, I immediately had a bad teacher moment. I had given the student’s reading group the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes as there was an origami enthusiast in the reading group.

We were about a quarter of the way through the book when I realised how thoughtless I had been. However the student was engrossed in the story so I decided to not make a big deal of the situation. When I asked the child about the book, the response was that even though Sadako’s life was short, her death inspired many people.

That’s when I realised there’s no hiding from death.

This is this the student’s reality.

So right now the characters in books are go between .

We study how Edward Tulane‘s response to grief changes him as a character. We talk about what happens after death during Wonder. The treatment of Stella in the One and Only Ivan will undoubtedly involve thinking about how to say goodbye well to the people that you care about.

Every death is a highly personal tale and every person’s reaction just as varied. Right now we talk about death through books, it’s a way to talk about the reality of death but not make it personal. Through the fantasy of fiction, I hope this student can learn how to make peace with the pain and suffering in this world.

4 thoughts on “A death in the family – hard classroom conversations

Add yours

  1. That is beautifully written, Stephanie. What a tragic situation; you are handling it with such sensitivity. It is so unfair that a child is learning such a devastating lesson at such a young age.

    I agree with you on the power of books to handle these types of issues sensitively; what a powerful story for your student about the ability to inspire. Sadako is an amazing book and it does evoke very powerful responses. I had a student from Japan last year who arrived in our boarding house with very little English. She chose to do her passion project on origami and so we read this story together….the story absolutely devastated her initially and she asked me to stop reading it and tell happy stories about her country. We stopped of course but a couple of days later she said she was ready to continue and wanted me to read it to the class so they would learn about her country. She ended up switching her passion project to teaching the rest of us to make cranes and together we made 1000 which we hung on the Peace Bell in the Chch Botanical Gardens on August 6th.

    Have you read “See You at Harry’s” ?

    Thinking of you and your student.


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