Cherokee High School English teacher Kathy Hays can almost feel the sorrow of her students who have experienced the death of a close family member or friend.
Perhaps it’s a part of being sensitive to her students or maybe it’s the result of a long career — more than 35 years — of teaching. More likely, it’s the combination of the two.
But one thing is for sure, she said: “If a teacher teaches long enough, he or she will surely have to deal with a grieving student.”
A recently-released survey by the American Federation of Teachers found that 69 percent of the organization’s union members nationwide reported having at least one student in their class in the past year who had experienced the death of a close family member or friend.
However, just 7 percent reported receiving any formal training on the topic of childhood bereavement.
“The fact is our society is uncomfortable with death and grief, particularly that of a child,” said Maeve Ward, vice president of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the study. “Kids are quick to pick up on that. So, they suffer in silence, but that creates emotional difficulties.”
Based on teacher responses to the survey, students who experience the death of a parent or guardian are more likely to face emotional challenges, are prone to anxiety or loneliness, often need more support in school and lack a sufficient support network to deal with their grief. They also tend to have more difficulty concentrating in class, higher absentee rates and experience a decrease in the quality of their schoolwork and frequency of completing homework.