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Teacher Bestie: Writing has always been a cathartic vehicle for tumultuous times throughout my life. When I had a catastrophic miscarriage of quadruplets, lost my beautiful grandmother, or lost a decades-long friend who was the absolute kindest soul I knew, I leaned on my faith, my circle of support, and all that I ever learned about grief and healing. I listened to church sermons, read my Bible, revisited Trauma-Informed Practices for teachers, and reexamined How Teachers Triumph Over Trauma When Battling Trauma Ourselves.

That said, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for this newest tragic loss. In my twenty-two years in education, I have experienced the death of loved ones, students, and even previous colleagues, but what do you do when you unexpectedly lose your teacher bestie? How does one cope with the loss, grief, and impact of a teacher who has played such an integral part in the entirety of one’s career and students’ lives?

Why Lord?

Sometimes, things happen in life that make you question literally everything. Without any biological sisters, I’ve been so blessed to have built a strong sisterhood over my life. But few have been closer than my work bestie, Gena Stewart. For over seventeen years, anyone who knew me knew Ms. Stewart. 

“Ms. Lamons and Ms. Stewart are besties,” they’d say. 

“Yup, and you better respect us both!” 

My Forever Teacher Bestie

Gena and I were the best of friends through thick, thin, and every road in between. Like many Teacher besties turned best friends, she became much more than a colleague. Gena was my confidante for any and everything professional and personal. She was the wisdom to my chronic overreactions, the voice of reason to my often irrational emotions, and the centering to my often unbalanced life. 

“Slow down, stop trying to do everything!” She’d often yell at me. 

“Stop taking things so personal!” She’d admonish me. 

“Learn how to say no and mean it Lamons!” 

Gena always called me by my last name and only used my first name when she was really going to give me the business. She often said these things with skillfully placed curse words, but it was always in love. She genuinely cared about me as deeply as I did her. Gena was my sister. We experienced all the stress, drama, and trauma of being a Black educator in this crazy system together. We both collaborated and conspired, getting into that “good trouble”, and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme racism, all while leaning on our unwavering faith in God.

So how would I go to work without the teacher bestie who was always right next door for every laugh, every cry, every joy, every heartache, every success, every failure, everything

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

The impact of having a teacher bestie cannot be understated. The death of an educator often permeates beyond the classroom walls into the lives of so many alumni and community members they touch. Coping with these losses and working towards healing does not mean we have to move on, but we do have to live on. Grieving is natural. Loved ones are grieving. Colleagues are grieving. Students are grieving. We all need to give ourselves permission to grieve and find ways to heal however we see fit. 

Give Yourself Grace

With grief in the classroom comes a myriad of emotions: anger, sadness, questions about what possible good could come out of such a tragedy.

It’s fine if you feel the need to step away and take days off to process things.

Consider it “normal” if you want to go to work and be there for the kids, cry, grieve, or be together. Not to work, just…be.

And it’s okay to allow things to settle before embarking on “business as usual.”

Give yourself the grace to move in whatever way you see fit.

Give yourself a variety of ways to celebrate impactful lives

Memories of our lives, of our works, and our deeds will continue in others – Rosa Parks. 

Talk about the impact. Write about the impact. Celebrate the impact. Find old photos and videos, and develop a space to make new videos. People can chronicle their memories and speak about how much teachers meant to their lives. Create memorials and find other ways to allow their memory to live on. Turn the impact of their life into a legacy future generations can learn from. And don’t forget to give our students agency in how they celebrate the impact of a teacher’s life. Students often come up with the best ways to celebrate the lives that have impacted them the most. Give yourself and others various ways to remember and celebrate the lives of educators who have impacted us so much.

Final thoughts

Gena, my teacher bestie, I will miss our texts, calls, convos in the halls, unspoken words behind looks, and smiles across rooms. I honestly don’t know how to make it through the rest of my career without my work bestie right next door. I will learn to cope with the loss and grief through prayer and faith in God. But I know your tremendous impact on the lives of my students, and I will live on forever.

Rest in eternal paradise, sister. 

Michele Lamons-Raiford is a hearing American Sign Language (ASL) and English teacher at Pinole Valley...

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