What is it like to have one of your teachers die in high school?

I've been sitting at this solid white blank space for fifteen minutes. I somehow feel as though I don't deserve to disturb such a memory. It's something that should be remembered in a glass box, not prodded and dragged around.

I was introduced to him my previous year, (junior) American History. He wasn't someone to skirt around things. As he introduced himself, he immediately confronted the fact that he was bald. It was not a choice, he was undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, he would often have substitute teachers come in. We went through about 6 long-term substitute teachers. The last one stayed.

The time we had him in class was great. It felt like such a privilege to be taught by someone who cared enough to teach us, even while going through such pain. There were some days where it was obviously destroying him, and he would go home early. We always made sure to express our appreciation.

My most vivid memory of him is when he was eating an apple. He told us how important fruits are, and how nothing can beat the natural sugar in them. The joy he received made it look like he was eating cake. I don't know why this stuck with me. Something about how much he enjoyed simple things like a fruit.

He died over the weekend with his family. Our vice principle choked back tears while he described him as a friend over the announcements. I didn't learn anything that class period.

What is it like? It's knowing you can't do anything for someone who has helped you so much. Make sure your teachers know you appreciate them. It's important.

It's very sad.  And when most of the students in the school blame another student, it can be dangerous.

One of my favorite teachers in high school was Mr. Bullock.  Ex football player and was a power-lifter for 20 years.  Looked a bit like Santa Claus when I knew him.  Tough guy.  Booming voice and laugh.  Took a true interest in his student's lives.  He was one of the favorite teachers in the school among almost all students.

Mr. Bullock lived for teaching.  He spent every evening on the phone with his students giving help.  He literally worked 100 hour weeks and loved it.  Almost 50 years old, no wife, no kids - teaching was his life.

I didn't pay much attention in school and didn't do homework.  A still got A's on most tests.  I would sleep through half my classes.  I took Calculus with Mr. Bullock.  It was easy and I started trying to sleep in his class too.  He would have none of that.  I spent most of the year standing behind a podium, instead of sitting at a desk - he figured I couldn't sleep standing up!  He was right and I really respected him for knowing how to handle me.

The year after I had him as a teacher something happened.  A female student wanted him to change her grade.  Well, this was math - the answer is either right or wrong.  So he refused to lie by giving her a higher grade which she didn't earn.  She started yelling and making a scene.  At some point she said, "Mr. Bullock you have a big chest."  His response was "So, you have a small one."

The next day her parents talked to the Principal.  They were trying to blackmail the school into changing her grade because of what Mr. Bullock said. 

[This was during a time when the County was making up any reason they could to get rid of teachers with over 25 years in the County.  The pension plan had big increases for each year over 25.  Mr. Bullock had been there for 23, if remember right.  (A couple years later they stopped doing this, after losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit)]

So the school tried to make this into some kind of sexual harrassment case.  Mr. Bullock was fired and the administration promised him that he would never teach anywhere ever again.

A couple weeks later, Mr. Bullock took his own life.

The response amongst the students when we found out was unprecedented.  Crying, yelling, a lot of students just walked out of school for the day.  The girl that made the complaint never came back to school.  Apparently she got a lot of death threats.  Her family immediately left the state and never came back.  Even a few of the school administrators were relocated or retired soon after.

It was very sad to lose someone, especially like this.

Rest in Peace, dear friend.

I remember walking out of school one Friday, and seeing one my teachers standing by the gate, supervising students as they left. He asked me what I was going to do on the weekend, I told him I was going to play Warcraft III.

I had him as a teacher for Information Technology the year before, and (even though he was almost 60) I knew that he loved playing video games. I hadn't had any classes with him that year... But he was one of my mostly fondly remembered teachers. He always seemed happy, and very enthusiastic about teaching. And, if you didn't want to learn, he was fine with that too... As long as you didn't disrupt the rest of the class.

The following Monday, the senior school (students from year 11 and 12) had a very unusual assembly: we were told that a teacher had passed away. The same teacher I had spoken with just a few short days before.

Students cried and hugged each other, as they normally do in these situations. That made me angry. Most of the students hadn't even had him as a teacher. Some even mistook him for a different teacher (who had the same last name, but a different spelling). It confuses me why death elicits such a reaction from people.

He had died while skydiving. If you know what to look for, you can still find the article which describes how he tumbled out of control, which affected his parachute opening correctly. He hit a tree, and was killed. He didn't kill himself. He wasn't murdered. He didn't die from a medical condition. It was an unfortunate accident.

How did I feel about it? Surprised. Surprised that a teacher I talked to on Friday wouldn't be around anymore. That was about the extent of it.

The reality is that, at high school level, we would have had 6 different teachers at a time, one for each of the subjects we were learning. We'd get about 5 hours with each teacher a week, shared between 30 students. We were in classrooms, filled with other students. Not exactly easy to build a strong emotional connection with a teacher... so when you don't see them again, it's not exactly painful. (How many high school teachers do you keep in touch with? For me, the answer is zero...)

So, he was one of my favourite teachers. But he was still a teacher. It was sad what happened to him, and I felt bad for his family (but kind of happy he died doing something cool, like skydiving, rather than dying of old age...), but I didn't personally feel a sense of loss or sadness at his passing.

I do remember him, though. Especially our chat about Warcraft III.

About a week before my sophomore year of high school started, I was walking down the sidewalk in an older section of town, lots of Depression-era homes.   I was off in my own world and for some reason I stopped to look at this gigantic, gnarled old oak tree in front of a house.   It had knotholes all over the place and it looked ancient.  It put me in mind of the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird.   I kind of laughed to myself as I paused and looked up into branches that went up and up forever.     Then I heard a chuckle and looked over to see a kindly woman rocking on the porch of the house the tree belonged to.   Something about her made me want to spill out the nonsense in my head.   I called out, "Here's the tree, where's Boo Radley?"  

Then I cringed the biggest, self-loathingest cringe of my teenaged life.   What the hell had I just said?   Any other person would have looked at me like I was an idiot.   She threw back her head and laughed.   I felt so dumb.  I waved at her, murmured some self-deprecating thing,  and quickly moved on.

The next week, I walked into my advanced placement English Lit class and she was my teacher.

We got on splendidly.   She pushed me to take on bigger and more complicated subjects, write more intricate reports, get my form down.    The class was taught jointly with AP History and she merged the two subjects seamlessly.   I loved that class.   I worked hard for her approval.   Sometimes I stopped by her classroom at the end of the day just to chat, and she always had time for me.    She drew me out of my shell (I wasn't a talker) and soon she had me going on about growing up in the hospital with childhood cancer, long hours in the library while other kids played, and so on.   She was just an absolutely wonderful woman.  We exchanged books like friends would, not like a teacher and a student would.   She borrowed books from me and I borrowed books from her.   When school let out, she had my copy of a Deborah Sampson biography and I had something of hers...Joe Hill, maybe. 

And then one day, not long into the summer, I opened the paper and there was her yearbook photo.   She had died of breast cancer.   All of those talks, all of that letting me go on about what happened to me, and she had never once told me she was a cancer patient herself. 

I was filled with shame.   I still am.   Why did I never think to ask if she was okay?  Why did it never come up in conversation?   Why did she let me go on, and never once mention what she was going through?    So little time passed, she must have known that her situation wasn't good.   Yet she never once told me.   She absorbed all my pain and burdened me with none of her own.    And I find that a really terrible thing to have to live with.

Sometimes I think of what happened to the book she had borrowed from me.   Did she get a chance to finish it?   Did her relatives pack it up, donate it to Goodwill?   Did she write anything in the margins, as she sometimes did?   I still have her book, somewhere.   Did anyone know it was missing?   When she died, her world closed to me.   The unfinished nature of it is hard, too.

I wish I'd known she was hurting.   I wish I could have done something for her.

It's awful.

Mr. Tim Estberg was my freshman chorus teacher. He was a great guy - friendly, upbeat, hardworking, and really smart and talented. He cared so much about each one of his students.

I got in quite a bit of trouble freshman year, including several incidents involving chorus. He could have had me kicked out of chorus if he wanted, but instead he made sure that I wasn't kicked out, and he still gave me an A.

I graduated from high school this May. (2016) New Trier, my high school, has a variety show called Lagniappe-Poutpourri, written and produced completely by students. I had helped compose music for the show for the last 3 years. Now that I had graduated, it was up in the air whether or not I would be allowed to participate in the Lagniappe music writing staff again since I was technically no longer a student.

Mr. Estberg was one of the faculty sponsors for Lagniappe, and he was the one who decided to let me compose for the show one last time. I still remember how he used to buy snacks and bring them in to the composition and writing staff meetings.

The last time I saw him, at a composition meeting at the end of June 2016, I thanked him for letting me participate even though I had graduated. Two months later, on August 24, 2016, I learned that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. I was shocked and horrified. He was one of the healthiest people I had ever met, and he was only 51. He died 4 days later.

RIP Mr. Estberg. Thank you so much for everything you did for me.

It's very sad. Mr. Fin (name changed as there was quite a bit of newspaper coverage about it), was one of the funniest and best teachers we had in our school.

He taught math and was loved by pretty much all his students. Same goes for his wife Mrs. Fin. She taught DT and was one of the happiest and most relaxed teachers.

On a regular Thursday, he came to school and taught all of his classes as he normally would, throwing in a few jokes here and there. After school he helped run the football (soccer) club as he did normally. A couple of my friends were on the team and said he appeared as happy as he usually was.

After training, he went home to his wife and two daughters, ate dinner with them. When he was done, he went to the bathroom.

Around 40 minutes past and Mrs. Fin grew worried as she heard some strange noises coming from the bathroom so she knocked on the door. No answer. She broke the door and found that her husband had hung himself to death.

They said there was a suicide note but (understandibly) did not want to share it publicly.

The next day at school it was pretty much what everyone talked about. For the most part, people were extremely respectful and saddened by the news. Our school announced that a memorial would be held the next day and all student who wished to attend would be welcome to skip last period and go to the memorial (held in the school hall). 

The months following, the students in Mrs. Fins demeanour. After she took about 2 weeks off to mourn (the school allowed her to take more days off but she chose to come back; I believe they also increased her pay a bit), she lost her smile. It was like she was just saying things while her mind was somewhere else. She did go back to being smiley and happy again, but it wasn't as much as she was before.

All in all, it was an extremely saddening and scary experience and my thoughts and prayers go out to the family. 

This happened just last December, actually-jeez, it feels like an eternity ago.

I go to a small Catholic school, with only about 70 kids through the three grades of middle school. We have the same four teachers for these three years, too, if the teachers don't choose to leave. And with so little students compared to the nearby public schools, we are all super close to each other-I've been with some of the people in my class for ten years now. We basically see each other as siblings, at this point. Even with the grades above and below us-the middle school is like a family, 70 messed up ‘Catholic' kids and four caring parents, even though we've basically doubled in size over the past few years.

(I'd like to think that the teachers care about us, haha. But of course I don't really know. Certainly all us kids love the teachers, and it helps when we all have the same four to talk about and talk with.)

Basically, we nest hard. Which is why it hurt so much when our science teacher died over Winter Break 2016.

(This probably sounds like a dramatic YA novel, but so does basically everything that happens at my school.)

I mean, from the start, we knew this was going to be a...different year. The science teacher-a war veteran with the Purple Heart, we whispered to each other during the summer months, after doing the secret initiation task of Googling our future teachers-seemed set on not following the curriculum. To some perfectionist conservative brats, this sounds astounding. We wrote essays on aliens, the Hindenburg, violently sang covers of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' and just talked, most of the time-which honestly felt...nice, in a world of high expectation.

To this day, I have no idea how no one called him out on this. I guess we were having too much fun to care. His homeroom, the class ahead of us (8th, now 9th Graders) absolutely adored him, and so did the then-6th graders.

On the very first day we had him, he sat us down and said this: "Kids, who in here honestly doesn't believe in evolution?"

We had debates about global warming, the existence of other life, the Big Bang and topics the other teachers wouldn't even have dared to touch. We were excited by it all, but we didn't realize until much later that he was simply trying to expand the worldview of some closed-minded Catholic students.

And well, it worked. We begun to understand that the world was bigger and more complex than faith and a bubble of Catholic safety. We began to think differently, to question things we'd known.

Maybe that wasn't a good thing, but here we are.

(As for me, I didn't ‘like' him that much, but for a variety of petty and insignificant reasons that I now regret.)

And then, it ended.

With one last affectionate "get out", we left the science lab for the last time before break, on December 21st or so, after talking about the impending and Diocese-run science fair that we were all forced to enter.

I clearly remember hovering by the door, wondering if I should say goodbye for the Winter Break, then deciding not to-because I ‘didn't like him', but also because I knew that I'd have to go through six more months with him, and I'm going to see him in two weeks, anyway-

There was something wrong with his heart. Even now, months later, people still awkwardly maneuvering around the subject-all we know is that he died suddenly on a Saturday night before Christmas, because of something like a heart attack. I don't know. I guess I don't need to know.

It was sudden, not like a disease that slowly acted up until delivering a final blow, no-to us, this man was going to teach us for at least this year and next. We didn't expect it at all-I thought the Five Stages of Grief were utter bs until I watched the way all of us reacted.

Winter Break, up until then, was me with my cousins happily binging on Sherlock and going laser tagging.

I still remember-we were getting frozen yogurt and loading it with sprinkles when my friends started to text, frantically FaceTiming each other, asking questions, sending screenshots, being confused and devastated.

I scrolled through the chat, looking for signs that maybe the boys were trying to play a sick prank on us, or the girls making references to a joke that I didn't get.

But no, "I think he's dead." I will never forget the utter numbness that came over me when I read that text. Capitalization correct, end punctuation in place-this was my best friend, she was being completely serious. (Yes, I know.)

Then, I opened the email. I frantically grabbed my mom's phone, and without daring to breath, I opened it up.

Well, I had a teacher die when I was in middle school, in 6th grade.

She was a French teacher at our school. I actually never was in her class as she taught the 7th and 8th grades but my sister had her and loved her. In the first couple months of school she'd missed many classes due to an ‘illness' she didn't ever specify about. Than she was gone for the whole month of November. Well the news soon spread around. She had cancer. They had everyone write cards to her. since my grade didn't really know her, we wrote more generic things, although the older grades went in to great detail. A couple weeks later we were called in for a schoolwide assembly. They told us how she had passed away from her illness. Everyone was shocked and most kids were crying, even the kids who had never been taught by her (including me) as we'd heard amazing things. My sister truly loved her as a teacher. It was a small school, and she was always smiley and had passed by smiling and said hello to me many times before. It was definitely a strange atmosphere in school after. We like to take teachers for granted and complain about their classes and homework, but in the end you're as close to your teachers as any loving adult in your life.

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