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Every Student Deserves a Response Like This After a Loss

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Grief is relentless. It always seems to show its head at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes we experience painful and intense situations while we’re already engulfed in other aspects of life, school and work. These are the times when we run behind in work and school and have to cross our fingers and hope that our superiors will extend kindness and empathy towards us — which is what one college professor did for their student, Alyssa, shown in the viral tweet below.

The student reached out to her professor letting them know about the tragic loss of her sister and asked for an extension on an assignment. What her professor did was put themselves in her shoes and extended empathy towards her — expressing that they also have two sisters and could not imagine what she was going through. The professor went above and beyond, letting Alyssa know that the good work she has done in the class has not gone unnoticed. As long as Alyssa participates to the best of her ability, her professor will make sure that this tragedy does not have an additional negative impact on her education.

Being shown compassion in our weakest moments is one of the things necessary for us to grieve and heal. Other teachers and professors should take note of just how much a little bit of compassion and understanding goes when extended to students. When I’ve experienced losses, the last thing that was on my mind was to continue to put my full effort into my work and getting it turned in on time. Having some blanket flexibility, given that the student uses it appropriately, can make a huge difference. Instead of missing a few assignments and then just giving up because the grade has already dropped, they could still push to be motivated into doing the work to the best of their ability. They continue to learn and take in knowledge as opposed to just throwing in the towel.

I went through a sudden and intense loss in high school that I was not prepared for in any way.

For a few weeks I struggled significantly with focusing because my mind would wander into thinking about the hole that was left in my heart. Some of my teachers extended their sympathies to me and offered to help how they could, they gave me a couple of extra days to get assignments and papers done, they helped me study and catch up with what I missed during lunch, they made sure I got everything that I needed, etc. Other teachers did not help me accommodate at all. Due dates were set in stone, if I missed any of the material it was on me to get the notes and teach it to myself, and if I got a bad grade on something it stayed in the grade book.

Looking back at that situation, I realize that the classes that I put the most of my time and effort into were the ones with teachers who seemed to actually care about my education and were willing to accommodate me. The teachers who wanted me to succeed were the ones who, at the time, I felt like were worth putting the little energy I had into as opposed to the ones who just cared about passing vs failing.

One thing that needs to be remembered in the education system is that students are humans too. And unfortunately being human means experiencing tragedy, but you don’t want that tragedy to define your life. If you’re a professor or a teacher and learn that one of your students is experiencing a loss, put yourself in their shoes for a second. Realize that you may not be on top of your game with your work, that deadlines can cause a decrease in quality because you’re preoccupied, offer your support and help to get through the hard time.

Unfortunately we will all experience loss at some point in our lives, and most likely more than once. Extend the kindness to others that you would want to have extended to you in intense times of grief.

Originally published: October 13, 2020
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