Teaching Through Grief and Cancer

Teaching math is always a tough job. Kids often need more from you than you can give. The bell rings and kids are still not understanding the material.

Throw in some personal problems for the teacher. My dad died about six weeks ago. I got a cancer diagnosis about five months ago, that I basically ignored, because my dad was really sick, on chemo, and shrinking. So, I didn’t want to be laid up or worrying anybody with my own cancer.

Granted, my cancer wasn’t that big of a deal on the surface. That’s kind of funny because it was skin cancer. Get it … surface? Ha ha. It was just basal cell carcinoma. On my face, my nose. So, I’ll be going to school with an obvious wound. However, it was my third cancer. The others were a bit more serious. So, I’m a bit upset about it. I’m only forty-eight. Okay, truthfully, I’ll be forty-nine this month.

So, today was my surgery. It went really well. Mohs surgery. I only needed one round. That’s rare. Most people need two or more. So, I’m feeling pretty good.

But, my students have suffered. My daughter is having to deal with a pretty solid amount of turmoil, grief and upset feelings during her last semester of high school. She and I are at the same school. So, she may need to field questions about my stitches and bandages on my face. I’m worried about all of this and I’m still grieving.

So, how are my students doing? Well, I’m not sure. I haven’t been there much. I’ve been out of the classroom a lot this semester because I also served on a hiring committee (two days) proctored the SBAC (one day) and serve on a countywide committee for Algebra 2 alignment (two days).  My daughter went to State championship for wrestling (two days) my surgery was today and I’m taking tomorrow (2 days) plus out for bereavement (three days).

So, my plans for my classes are all blown to shit.

And, even when I have been there, I’ve been less than I’d like to be. Even though I do forget about my troubles when I’m at school. I love teaching. I have good relationships with my students. But, they need more than that from me.

So, this blog outlines my problems and hopefully sets the stage for my next blog, which is going to be about how my students are doing in light of it all. And, about how I’m planning to compensate for it in the last month of school.

Many of us have dealt with or will deal with these kinds of serious issues while teaching. If you have, post a response below. How did you handle it? What do you wish you had done differently? What would you keep the same? What advice would you give a teacher going through these types of things?


6 thoughts on “Teaching Through Grief and Cancer

  1. julierwright

    That sounds really tough. Making human connections is part of our job, and there’s only so much compartmentalizing you can do. I find it helps me to have separate spheres, to take a break from the other stress while teaching (and vice versa), but there is a price to be paid doing it that way, because you withhold part of yourself and when stress bleeds through, you don’t give people around you enough information for them to understand and help you. No easy answers.

    I’m sorry about your dad and your own medical issues. Glad you took care of it. Remember that a lot (most?) of the students at your school have been close to someone with cancer. Seeing someone out and about after surgery can be good for them, especially if you think out ahead of time what you can say to get across what you feel like you need to…. even if it’s “I had some surgery and it went well, thanks for asking, but you know what, I’d much rather talk about school stuff!”


    1. quantgal Post author

      That’s a great response, Julie. Thanks! And it’s true, I would much rather talk about math. 🙂
      And, yes, the stress may be bleeding through a bit. If it weren’t I would feel the need to write about it, right? So, these two days off, combined with the good news that I had a lucky outcome is what I need to recharge. Today, I’m planning for the next few weeks and it feels good knowing much of this is behind me.


  2. erinsf

    Hi Laurie, WOW you certainly had a tough few months:( I am so sorry to hear about your dad. And, yes we are only 49…..it seems too soon for a parent to be gone:( And, for cancer to directly affect us. But, it does. And, it happens too often:( I am always worried about Skin Cancer but, never quite worried enough so thank you for reminding us all to take care of ourselves and to take care of our skin! Your students are going to be okay. Most of them will anyway. They are teenagers so there is always other angst to concern them too. You sound like you have a strong foundation for your teaching and learning. As long as you are there and offer your help and make sure they know you are accessible…which it sounds like you do:) They are lucky to have you!


    1. quantgal Post author

      Hi Erin, Yes, I think it is a really good idea to remember that , as much as this is troubling me, they are probably thinking about a million other things. Thanks!!


  3. Dan Meyer

    No solutions here, Laurie, just sympathy. Pancreatic got my dad a few years back and it was just the worst. I hope your students and all their tiny daily dramas can offer you some cheer, though, rather than more worry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. quantgal Post author

      Thanks so much, Dan. Sorry for your loss. My dad had CLL, a type of leikemia. Pancreatic is one of yhw worst. My dad was pretty healthy up to the last few months. The students are really wonderful. Remembering that they are dealing with a million other little dramas of their own is helpful. Thanks!



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