When A Student Dies


millerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

On a sad personal note, I attended two funeral services this week. Both were young men who were killed under very different circumstances and in very different worlds. Both of the deaths were tragic and horrible. One of the young men was a former student of mine who was murdered. 

As the professor, we are the mother (or father) figure in the classroom. We are the parent, the counselor, the friend, the mentor, and the educator. We play all of these roles. We spend time at the beginning of the course getting to know our students. If we are lucky, our students share some of themselves with us, and we are the better for it. For example, they share something about their human experience, they tell you a funny story, or they may even share a struggle that reminds you of your own blessings.

The students also share their vulnerabilities and growth with us — we see them struggle and progress from the beginning of the course to (hopefully) meeting our objectives and goals for them; we see them working and growing under our tutelage.

Then the course winds down and we say our goodbyes. We let students know that we are there for them if they need us. Some call on us for references or advising questions; some may pop up again in future courses. We see them on campus or around town and wave and smile, briefly catch up. Meanwhile, you have a new course load and are getting to know a new batch of students.

And this is okay. This is the process. We simply cannot remain involved and deeply connected to all of our former (or even all current) students; it’s not possible, feasible, or even desirable, right?

However, what I want to remember as I start and end each course is this: It is a privilege to be able to teach these men and women. When stressed about late work, department meetings, school policies and deadlines, negative attitudes, and unmotivated learners, I need to remember that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m lucky to share this precious time with my students, fellow humans, with their goals, dreams, and plans. I’m privileged to have shared this time with them, to have gotten to know them.

Particularly during this time of year, but at some point each day, I pause to remember what I am thankful for: family, healthy, country, friends. I’m also thankful for my job, which I love and affords me the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful stars. 

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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  1. Typically our students are between 25 and 65 and could be located anywhere in the world. Because they are a adult learners, I find that one or two of life’s major trauma’s are likely to happen in a 12 week cohort: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, new hires and job losses – and it is hard to handle the negatives – especially when teachers and students are so invested in improving their lives.

  2. Dr.Miller, it was encouraging to read your post. I had such an experience. A student, so passionate about learning. I spent many hours helping him learn English (his second language) and excel in his academic pursuits. Near the end of his degree program, I received word (from another previous student) that he had pancreatic cancer. He wanted to talk with me before returning to his home country. Within a couple months, he was gone. It felt like I lost a friend and, after reading your post, I realize I had. This was a few years ago but I remember it vividly. Thanks for reaching out and sharing your insight on this topic.

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