Teachers learn to grieve

Nobody Knows -by Tony Rich

Adapted Lyric: “Nobody Knows” by Tony Rich


All good teachers know that it’s the relationships with your students that matter. People can learn so many things on YouTube now. What keeps teachers from extinction is the ability to connect with their students in a way that a screen (or even A.I.) can never replicate. I learned long ago that learning is about emotions. If a student associates your class with positive emotions, they will learn better. I try to invest a lot of positive emotions in my classes.

There are also negative emotions in life. I have been learning about how to manage negative emotions lately. As usual, I learn the most from my students. In this case, it was from Madeline.

Madi was a student in my grade 11 physics class. She was bright, pretty, and very quirky. When I think of Madi I think of the Physics Blog she wrote in our class. Anyone that knew her would say “That is so Madi” after reading it. The sarcasm, the irreverence, and the scientific articulation blew me away. I don’t remember if I told her when I graded the assignment, but it was easily one of my favourites. Reading 30 different blogs from students about the same lessons can get dull, but Madi’s really stood out. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hi, valued readers! It’s me, the author of this blog again, and I’m here to talk to you about something very important to me. I personally call it power, although some people call it by different names. For example, in Japan they probably call it パワー. I don’t speak Japanese but that’s what power is in Japanese according to google translate. And I mean, google has helped me out in times of need so I trust it.

Power is the rate at which work is done. Work is, as we know, the action of a force acting upon an object a displacement. Power can be calculated with the formula P = W/Δt. To demonstrate the formula, I’m going to write about something I saw today and calculate its power.”

She then went on to describe how to calculate the power of a Dragonite (Yes, that’s a Pokémon). It was so Madi.

After I found out about Madi’s death, I knew I had to read her blog again, but I wasn’t ready to confront it right away. After a few days of avoiding it, I forced myself to go and read it. Only I couldn’t find it in my files! I ended up spending a whole afternoon searching for it. When I found it, I was so relieved that it hadn’t been deleted. I read all of it again, which was probably an irrational way of keeping her alive for just a little longer. I didn’t want it to be lost on the interwebs, so I downloaded and made it into a physical copy to give to her family. I hope one day they will read it and enjoy it like I did.

I never thought the death of a student that I don’t currently teach would affect me as much as it did. The truth is that I probably would have never seen Madi again even if she hadn’t died. The number of former students that I see on a regular basis can be counted on one hand. But knowing that it could never happen, and the world would be losing such a bright and unique mind made my heart ache. It was rough few days for me last week.

I felt so supported when former students, colleagues, friends and family checked in on me last week. Andrew (unfortunately) has gone through this before, and had given a Ted Talk about it last year. Watching it helped me refocus during the first few days after hearing the news. He advised that time is the only thing that will make the pain go away. He was right. Nothing I did would help me sleep or eat any better after the news really sank in. Everyone deals with loss in different ways and I learned a lot about myself through this tragedy. Organizing my thoughts and writing this post really helped.

In school, I had a renewed sense of connection with my students, and it reaffirmed to me that the things we do day to day: the curriculum, the deadlines, the assignments, it’s not that serious. It is the aggregate actions from of all of us: teachers, parents, and all the adults in our children’s lives, that’s what makes a difference, a little bit at a time. It really does “take a village” to guide a young person into a good citizen. Losing one with such potential at a young age is why it hurts so much.

Madi may not be with us anymore, but she will live on, through me. As I continue to work with young people, I will forever strive to be better at what I do. When I face moments of weakness, Madi will give me strength to keep getting better. That’s how I will honour her.

Goodbye Madi. I hope to see you again, so I can tell you all about the lessons you taught me when you went away.


5 thoughts on “Teachers learn to grieve

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record

  2. Oh Albert … I can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now! Sending you a big virtual hug, and a “thank you” for sharing a little bit of Madi with all of us!


  3. Albert:
    It’s so hard when this happens, and I have always felt as teachers, we are neither fish nor fowl in this context. We are not family, not friends, and yet, we are grieving members of the community. So glad you found the blog. Sending you strength.

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