Letters from Judy: Thank you to our teachers

When we think of who is working on the front lines of grief and loss, we picture hospice nurses, firefighters, and counselors. We imagine doctors and first responders. But do you think of teachers?

In the early days of my career, I never would have put grief work and teachers together. Now, teachers are some of the most important people responding on the front lines of grief. They are also some of the people I admire most. From school violence to the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have become the first people many of our children look to in the face of tragedy, uncertainty, and loss

In the United States alone, one in twelve children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. This report by Judi’s House also reveals that the annual rate of bereaved children has increased, rising from 6 million in 2023 to 6.3 million in this year’s projected analysis.

And while these statistics are staggering, they don’t begin to touch on the grief experienced by young people from non-death losses. Bullying, isolation, and disappointments like not making the team or failing a test can all bring up feelings of grief.

U.S. Surgeon Vivek Murthy has called attention to declining mental health among children. Grief is an integral part of this problem.

And teachers welcome these, and all, children, into their classrooms every day.

In light of these statistics, I went first to teachers to learn more about what our young people are struggling with. In the first few years of the pandemic, I met with teachers and school administrators from all over the country. Over and over, they told me the same thing: the kids were not alright. They were sad, angry, and confused. They were grieving. They still are.

As I learn about what children and teens are experiencing in schools today, I also see firsthand just how incredible our teachers are. Teachers carry on with diligence, tenacity, and grace. They take new knowledge directly into classrooms, adapting to new technology and new rules. Most of all, they help our children adjust after an unprecedented disruption to their educational and social learning. 

As the school year comes to a close, I want to acknowledge the heroic emotional work that teachers do every day for young people. Whether they are the first to hear about a student’s stress at home or checking in after class with the child whose grandmother just died, the care that teachers give students is an essential, and sometimes overlooked, part of our efforts to address mental health challenges facing young people.

Teachers, thank you. You go far beyond instructing and show up for your students with kindness and empathy. All that you do builds your students into educated, strong, and resilient young people. We at Hearts of Hope are here for you, whether you need a friend to call or are interested in extra classroom support through our newest program, GRIT

What teacher has made an impact on your life? Let us know at info@ourheartsofhope.org. And to be the first to receive Letters from Judy and keep up with our events, success stories, and opportunities to get involved, subscribe to our newsletter here.