Teachers Who've Had To Tell Their Class A Student Passed Away Share Their Experiences

Teachers Who've Had To Tell Their Class A Student Passed Away Share Their Experiences
Image by Johana Peña from Pixabay

*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.

When a sudden tragedy strikes a school, an uncanny tone sweeps across the community.

The whispers of half-informed students fly down hallways and across cafeterias. Each is heard with a balance of eager interest and mournful respect.

Teachers act strangely. They hold secrets and quietly argue about how to deliver the tragic news. The chain of command is strained under the unique circumstances.

When a student dies, all decorum subsides.

Perhaps wondering what that environment feels like, Redditor ThatOneLazySushi asked:

"Teachers who had to tell their class a student passed away, what was it like?"

Many teachers talked about the times a student or students chose to take their own lives.

The moral of the story? There is simply no way to deliver that news without an injection of trauma.

So Young

"My step-dad is a private school principal who also taught 7-8th graders. Total class size was 21 or so. Over the weekend one of the 13yo died of apparent suicide. I have never seen him so pale and empty looking when he got home that day."

"You could tell he had been crying along with the students. In his 30 years he had never dealt with anything like that and he shut down for a good while. He never saw a counselor but set it up for the students. I wish he would."

-- DangerDuckling

A Faceless Note

"On the 2nd day that I was in my own doing student teaching, the school went into lockdown. As this was just over a year after 911, the class, a senior Government class, surmised that it had something to do with that. There has been 2 suicides of dropped-out students in the prior 2 weeks, but that did not come up."

"Then a note was slipped under the door stating that a senior, the girlfriend to one of the prior suicides, had killed herself that morning. The option was given to announce it or have someone come down from the office to do it."

"I guess they could see my concern, and the color draining from my face while reading it, as I was asked, 'Mr. D——, what's going on?' I told them, and it was heartbreaking. There was a lot of anger and a lot of tears. It has been nearly 20 years and it still haunts me."

"In hindsight, it was, to quote the Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue, a Get Tough Or Die moment. I've lost 5 current/former students since then, but none were as dark as the first one."

-- mattd1972

Probably the Best Response

"I used to teach English in China as an expat. The college I worked at had three suicides in a year, one of the students was in my department. Although I didn't teach the student directly, the tone of the students and my colleagues were extremely gloom."

"Although tragic, the topic of mental health had been on the forefront of school business after the third incident and a therapy office for students has been established in the administration building. I was very proud of my school for taking mental health seriously, and had a discussion with my students about the issue. I kept my office open for any students wanting to talk."

"AFAIK no other suicide/attempt was made for the remainder of my time there (~1 year afterward). Flowers were set up at the location."

-- Saxophones-InMyA****

Cumulative Tragedy

"Worst day of my career. A student of mine shot himself the night before. The SRO told me that morning. The principal made an announcement over the intercom for all of my students to come to my room and instructed me to tell everyone about his passing while all the admin and district and school counselors watched."

"His best friend just got out of a mental hospital for cutting himself. He was sitting right next to me when I spoke to the class. I instructed one of the counselors to not let the best friend out of their sight for any reason. 30 minutes later, the counselor informs me the best friend has gone missing."

"I search the school and find him, razor in hand, and a bloody mess. I take the razor and hold him with one arm while calling his dad with the other. It was a long and terrible day."

-- BandDirector17

Other teachers recalled times that a student suffered at the hands of community violence. These stories took place in areas where, unfortunately, despite the sadness it wasn't completely shocking.

A Constellation of Factors

"A student of ours was shot and killed. It happened just as quarantine had started so no students to tell. Just the teachers and staff."

"I had talked to the student no more than a week before everything shut down. We had threatened to call CPS on the mother because she had several children not going to school at all. We also suspected she was under the influence of drugs. He came in because of this threat and had told us his twin had been shot during a party and died. Most likely gang related for both of the shootings."

"It's difficult because these were 16-year-olds that should have had a better shot at life but the system failed them every step of the way."

-- Xurroz

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Last to Hear

"Used to teach in inner-city Chicago. Never had a student die, but several of them got shot. The kids knew well before I did."

"I actually had one student missing for three days; I mentioned it out loud that it was odd they weren't in class for three days in a row, and one of my kids said, 'Oh, Joe got shot seven times. You didn't know?' "

"Pretty harrowing stuff. It's tough to sleep those days off, especially considering how casual the kids would be about it."

-- sushiladyb*/ner

Feels So Random

"A classmate from first period in my Jr. year of high school. The teacher just walked in to class and explained that this chick was shot in a drive by at the park."

"I just remember being super uncomfortable and not knowing what to do. The chick that sat behind her in class just lost it. Just shocked looked on her face, and she just started bawling. I'm sure she went home after that."

"I took flowers to the place ware she died. I didn't know her that well at all really. But I thought to myself 'even if you may not feel it, it's always good to pay your respects.' So I did."

-- DudeIMaBear


"My wife works in a high needs area that is plagued with gang violence. A few years back 4 students were found brutally murdered in the woods (MS13 hit). 2 of them were her students It was highly publicized and everyone knew before the next school day (I believed it happened over a long weekend or a school break)."

"For her breaking news wasn't hard but dealing with the fallout was heartbreaking. Sadness, fear and anxiety not just because of the murders but because of the extreme attention it received (it was highly politicized on the state and national level). Many students are afraid of the gangs but they are also afraid of the police and other authorities. The student body is incredibly vulnerable."

-- Hogwarts_Earth2

Finally, some people discussed the sudden medical tragedies that took place. Without any backstory, context, or logic to share, delivering this news felt sickening.

Just, Gone

"I was a student in a 2nd grade class where this happened. One of my classmate's older brothers had collapsed in the cafeteria. We all saw it. Our teacher had to come in and tell us the little information she knew and I distinctly remember her crying and having to leave the room."

"Days later when the brother was taken off life support they brought in child psychologists to tell us about brain death and life support machines and the hard decision his parents had to make. As an adult I really appreciate the care the school took to make sure everything was explained in a child appropriate manner."

"There was no gossip or whispering because they told us everything that happened. Our teachers even brought us to the funeral, explaining that although it would be sad it was important to show our classmate our support. A horrible situation that was handled as well as it could be given how young we were."

-- gingersnap9210

Just Being Kids

"(Student) In middle school I had a friend and his brother die from an electrocution accident from a downed power line after a storm. It was 2 brothers one in 6th grade and one in 5th."

"Everyone was acting weird that day and no one really knew why. Kids were crying and walking out of class, it kind of threw off our whole school day. I remember one of our teacher telling us what happened and got really emotional."

"Apparently a kid who went to our school witnessed what happened too and she basically said don't ask him questions about the situation. It hit her close to home for some reason I don't know why, she couldn't even speak without crying. I knew my old classmate a little bit and we shared a class. He was a really nice kid. RIP to him & his brother."

-- oboa41

A Horrifying Fluke

"My son was in the 3rd or 4th grade and one day he came home and said 'P didn't come to school today, her brother died.' It turned out the older brother and mom were playing around at home and she tapped him on the head with the heel of her shoe."

"He laid down to take a nap and died due to a clot or something like that. I can't even imagine."

-- MsPinkieB

A Confused Response

"I was the student here, and in 6th grade the teacher and principal both told our class that our classmate had passed. He had bullied me daily. When I heard the news, 11 year old me felt relief, and I never really thought about him again."

"Now, as a more empathetic adult, I feel absolutely horrible that I had that reaction to his death. I don't think as a kid, even in middle school, I truly understood what death was. I would take getting bullied every day over him dying."

"To tie this into the question - I don't envy educators that have to deliver this news at all. Some kids are losing their best friend or classmate, and some kids may not fully comprehend what happened."

-- mjh1723

Close to Home

"Im a student not a teacher, but the teachers son died from a car accident and he was one of my friends"

"The teacher came in crying and told us there would be a meeting in the auditorium to honor his son, I ended up going home and crying the rest of the day because one of my best friends died"

-- SilentAccountant

A Very Sad Start to the Day

"When I was in high school two of my classmates died, one in tenth grade from Reye's Syndrome, the other in eleventh grade from leukemia. In both instances the entire school was notified during the morning announcements over the PA."

-- yourtemporaryBFF

Someone To Talk To

"I teach elementary school and a student in an colleague's class (same grade) had a student pass away mid year. The student was sick. I forget what exactly he had, but it was well known he wouldn't live long, and he was frequently out of class due to illness or dr appointments."

"The day after his passing, a grief counselor was brought in and helped explain to the class what death was in a very age appropriate way. I had a couple of students in my class who were friends with the deceased student. I sent them to the grief counselor, and they said it helped a lot."

-- desert_red_head

Unfortunately, when a teacher takes the job they rarely imagine these days as part of the job description. But things like this do happen, and it's so important that kids have teachers when they do.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

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