5 reasons why you should - or shouldn't - tell your teachers about your loss, and ways to tell them if you choose to.
At the beginning of the first new school year after my dad’s death, a question came up that I hadn’t thought about: Should I tell my teachers about my loss?
I missed many school mornings after my dad died the year before, so it hadn’t even been a question if I should tell my teachers - it was something I had to do (and I would’ve done even if I didn’t have to). Every new school year since I’ve gotten a chance to decide whether I should tell my teachers about my grief.
Deciding if you should tell your teachers is a big question and one that I wasn’t entirely sure how to figure out the answer to at first. So to help you, I’ve come up with a list of reasons why you might tell your teachers, not tell them, and if you choose to tell them, how you can tell them and what might happen when you do.
Also: all of the information in this article is based on my personal experiences and assumptions, so while this can hopefully help you decide, it shouldn’t be the only thing determining your choice. These are some things that have helped affect my choice each year, and things that happened to me,
Reasons to tell your teachers.
1. It affects your school work
If you find yourself missing school, not doing well on assignments, or struggling in general because of grief, you should probably tell your teachers about grief.
By talking to your teachers about grief, they can better understand what’s going on and how to help you get good grades. Even if you don’t need extra help or time on assignments, having their support can be very helpful to you.
2. Your loss was recent (or during the school year)
If your loss just happened, you should probably tell your teachers about it. I didn’t realize how much grief would affect my schooling until I started doing badly in many of my classes, and without the support and assistance of many of my teachers, I wouldn’t have done well that year.
Telling your teachers right after your loss may be especially hard for you, so you can always ask a parent or guardian to talk to them for you. My mom was actually the one who emailed my teachers after my dad died, and not me.
3. You want to tell them
This one may seem obvious, but if you want to tell your teachers, you should. While grief isn’t affecting my schooling anymore, I still chose to tell one of my teachers (so far) about my grief, just because I wanted to.
Grief is a big part of my life and a big part of understanding me. If you just want to tell a teacher so they can understand you better, you can do that.
Reasons not to tell your teachers
1. It doesn’t affect your school work at all.
While this isn’t a reason that forces you to not tell your teachers (if you want to and this applies you still can), it is a good person to not mention it if you don’t want to. If grief isn’t going to affect anything related to your schooling, it’s up to you whether you tell your teachers about it.
If you aren’t sure if grief will affect your schooling and you want to avoid telling your teachers, you can always choose to not bring it up unless it does.
2. You don’t feel comfortable around your teachers
Getting new teachers each year can be strange, and if you don’t feel comfortable around your teacher or just don’t know them that well, you don’t have to tell them about your grief.
Since grief doesn’t affect my school work anymore, I usually only tell a few teachers about my grief each year and choose to not tell the ones I am not that comfortable around.
Of course, if grief affects your schoolwork, or you just lost someone, you may have no choice but tell that teacher. If you don’t want to talk about it with them, that’s okay. Just because you tell a teacher doesn’t mean that you have to have tons of conversations about it - you can just send them an email and then never bring it up again.
How can I tell a teacher?
It’s entirely up to you how you tell your teachers, but I would suggest doing it in person or through email.
I’ve found that the easiest way to tell a teacher about my loss is through an email, especially if the loss just happened. Emailing means you most likely won’t have an awkward conversation in person with them, and you can plan what you say more.
If you feel comfortable, though, telling a teacher in person is also a good way to do it. I often tell my teachers after my class, when no one I know is in the room, though you choose to tell yours before or after school, or before class.
If it’s in person, you can start the conversation by saying, “Excuse me, can I talk to you about something?” What you say after that can also be used if you choose to email them:
“I just wanted to let you know that my [person’s relation to you] died [time] ago.” You can also include, optionally, “I [do/don’t] think that this loss will affect my school year,” so they can know if they need to do anything for you.
What happens when I tell a teacher?
While I can’t speak for what every teacher says, I can tell you about what has happened when I’ve told teachers about my grief in the past.
My teachers have always been understanding, and usually said something along the lines of “I’m sorry” and “let me know if I can do anything.”
Most teachers probably won’t ask any follow-up questions, but some might. Questions will most likely be about how grief might affect your schoolwork, or how they can help, but if a question is asked that you don’t feel comfortable answering, remember that you don’t have to answer it. Just politely say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable about this,” and they’ll hopefully move on.
I haven’t gotten any teachers asking me questions I didn’t want to answer, and they just asked questions about school. For example, right after my dad died one of my teachers talked to me about when I would come in (his class was in the morning and I missed many mornings in the beginning), what assignments I would do, and how he could help me slowly get back on track.
I want to tell my teacher, but I’m not ready
The beginning of the school year may seem like the most obvious time to talk about your grief, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can do it. If you want to tell a teacher about your loss but just aren’t ready yet, you can wait. I actually told one of my teachers about my grief halfway through the school year last year.
Timing isn’t the most important thing: whether you are comfortable is. Telling a teacher a few months from now when you want to is much better than telling them now before you’re ready (unless it affects your schooling). It can be really scary to open up to people, especially teachers that you may not know that well, so if you aren’t ready to, that is okay.
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, I’ve only chosen to tell one teacher about my loss so far. I have no idea if I’ll tell more of my teachers later on, and that’s okay.
Figuring out if you should tell teachers about your loss is tough, and a question you’ll probably have to ask yourself at the beginning of each year. I hope hearing about how I’ve chosen and my experiences with telling teachers has helped you decide. If you have any tips about how you’ve figured out if you should tell your teachers about grief, or advice about how to tell them, be sure to comment them, or Tweet them to @teengriefsucks.
As you go back to school, remember that it’s okay to talk about your grief and that it’s also okay to be upset if your schooling looks a bit different this year because of the coronavirus. If you need support, please reach out to a friend, an adult in your life, or your school guidance counselor. Even though things are hard now, they will get better.
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Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Ivan Aleksic.