Words about a teacher I never knew

I’m not sure why I wanna write this post, or what good it’s going to do for anyone once it’s written. I guess I’ve just always seen this space as a place where I can reflect on things, share my confusion, or just say stuff that I’m feeling, or I’ve experienced. These things are nearly always related to my job – being an English teacher – and I think this post is too. Just, it’s different.

I feel the need to write something about Stephanie Scott. I’ve typed that name into Google about 15 times in the last few days. Her death feels like it’s personal to me, in a way that goes far beyond the usual voyeurism of media drenched tragedy. I tell myself it’s because she was a teacher, and we teachers are like a secret society who sometimes have falling outs, but who always band together. I tell myself it’s because she taught the same subjects as me – English and Drama (although admittedly I haven’t taught Drama since I was 26… the age she was when she was killed) – and that makes me feel even closer to her, even though (of course), I didn’t know her. We English teachers in NSW – yes, the state matters – are a tight crew with some magical, intangible connectedness… is it Belonging that did that to us? I don’t know, it seems silly to say it but it kinda makes sense. The ETA Facebook page has had a number of tribute posts for Stephanie, with so many responses… a Dickinson poem that just really was beautiful. And then there’s the fact that she was a young woman… and it feels like that’s the biggest reason I’m feeling this cos it holds the other two reasons together in my experience.

This post has no direction, as my grief for a woman I didn’t know has no direction. I feel false to use the word grief because it’s too personal, too intimate, but I don’t know how else to describe this constant like, erm, bleakness that I’ve been carrying with me since news of her death broke. I remember being 26 and being a newish teacher (at 26 she had more teaching experience than me, as I only started teaching at 25) and just finding it exhilarating and overwhelming and always being ‘on’ – never not thinking about my classes and stuff. She was like that too, because you have to be when you’re a young female English teacher. It’s all consuming and so emotional that you can’t explain it to anyone – maybe only other young female English teachers. It’s that commitment to her craft that saw her at work on a Sunday. It just crushes me to think beyond that. So, yeah.

I don’t know how I can help Stephanie’s colleagues cope with their loss. I’ve heard about the put a dress out idea which is beautiful, and the books idea too. I think I’ll send some books. I thought maybe I could send copies of the books I’ve written, or offer some professional learning to the staff – how fucking lame is that? I just feel completely useless. So instead, I wrote this. It’s not for her colleagues – cos just like with Stephanie, I don’t know them, but my god I feel helpless for them and their deep grief and shock – it’s for my messy brain, and perhaps just to say to any teacher reading this that we need to stick together, and just acknowledge that we’re all here and working and it’s OK to be overwhelmed and sad and scared when shit is shit. I’m especially concerned for the female teachers who, like me, might be feeling less confident, less safe and just a bit lost. I keep thinking about how trusting I’ve been, (and why shouldn’t I?) with strangers or casual acquaintances within my workplace and begin to doubt myself and my choices. And I get angry. Very. Angry. So anyway. We shouldn’t need to be and I just feel pissed that a young educator has been taken from us. One of us – an English teacher. She was one of us… and it’s shit and I just wanted to say that because it’s affected me. My thoughts continue to be with her family, friends, colleagues, and students but they’re also with my fellow teachers. Stand together and strong. Please.


18 thoughts on “Words about a teacher I never knew

  1. I am feeling the same way. Although I’m a science teacher Stephanie Scott’s never-to-be wedding day was my wedding anniversary. It was hard to see and read about her grieving family while celebrating mine. There but for the grace of fate go I.

    • I was feeling for those getting married yesterday, and those whose anniversaries fell on the day as well. It’s surprising the guilt – is it guilt? – we can feel about these things. I feel shitty having written this, as though I have any claim on the suffering of her loved ones, which I don’t, but felt a need to express my bewilderment, sadness, frustration etc. Hugs x

  2. Hi Bianca… I hear you. Thanks for this insightful post. I too have been deeply affected by this tragedy. I have a lot of family that live or have lived in Leeton and have spent many of my childhood holidays there visiting extended family and engaging with the members of the community. My grandmother lived in Maiden Avenue and my cousins attended Leeton High School. Sometimes these connections we make make the tragedy feel closer than one would expect. My thoughts and prayers extend to the family of this young teacher and beyond, to the Leeton community. This close knit community need the support of others at this sad time and on into the future Thanks again.

    • Oh Jenny, that’s awful. I’m sorry for the loss the community of Leeton is experiencing – not just of a young teacher, but of their sense of safety and innocence. The closeness of it makes it all the more shocking. Thinking of you.

  3. Even here from retirement and from afar I feel the loss. Yet in this case it’s rendered all the more personal as she was one of us and just at the beginning of a journey that is all too familiar. When I reflect more deeply on this tragedy I realise that it’s not only because she was a teacher, this is merely a point of reference a point of familiarity that allows me to gain acces to a fuller sense of her humanity, but it’s because I acknowledge and acclaim the value of every human and try to respect their rights. It’s a loss I feel when confronting every senseless act of violence. Many problems are created and exacerbated when we despise human beings and violate their rights, particularly their right to life.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings Bianca. The solidarity of the teaching profession helps with this confounding tragedy.

  5. Thanks for putting this into words. It is a weird kind of grief. As a female English and Drama teacher, it’s too easy to imagine myself in the same situation of being at a deserted school doing lesson planning. I didn’t know Stephanie personally, however she communicated regularly on the Drama teachers Facebook page and revealed a teacher who wanted the best for her students, and who went above and beyond with not just her students, but also drama colleagues she’d never met expect through Facebook. It’s just so horrific. I, too, have wondered how to help and what to do. I think it is going to be a very hard thing for the students and teachers to be at school and in the classrooms, especially if they determine the school is the location of the crime scene. So so sad. Thanks for writing this, which has allowed me to comment and get some of my thoughts out too.

    • Oh, Emily. This is what I guessed would be true. That’s really sad 😦
      It’s like today our connection to other teachers is stronger because of our potential for online interactions, which is awesome but really leaves us vulnerable to loss. I’m happy that you got to know her through the Drama group though, because it helps you to appreciate who she was, and who we all are as teachers. Hugs to you. I think the best you can do is keep that memory of her interactions, and giving nature alive and continue to love your job. x

  6. I can relate to your feelings Bianca. I’m a retired primary school teacher & my passion was always literacy in that context & still is when I do casual days at my local high school ( not that far from Canowindra).
    When I first heard the news about Stephanie after Easter, I was in tears. I too have spent many hours alone at school after hours, sometimes until midnight. For me it was maybe a little more upsetting because her impending marriage was to be on my birthday, but regardless I just felt so sad for her, her fiancé, her family & friends as well as sympathy for the family of the man who committed this horrific crime.
    Rest in Peace Stephanie & may all those who loved Stephanie find comfort in the fact that everybody who hears about this tragedy are horrified but are thinking of them in their time of unbelievable loss & pain

  7. Hi Bianca.
    I am writing this sitting in my deserted staffroom on the second Monday of the holidays and can’t help but think of her colleagues returning to school next week and having to face their grief anew.
    I was thinking that what they need more than anything right now is time – something that in Newcastle I can’t give to them personally. So what about we all pitch in a series of one off lessons that can be handed to a casual, or another member of staff when it all becomes too overwhelming for the English staff to handle. I know that the department will likely give the principal some emergent funding the have 2-3 casuals available to be used as the HT sees fit for the first couple of days. This may release some of the stress if they don’t have to plan?
    I haven’t put this on the Facebook page yet cause I don’t know if we would be overstepping a boundary but as a HT myself, I just want to contribute in any small way possible.
    What do you think?

    • I think that’s a wonderful idea! As simple as a link to a video, with questions or send a picture book with some activities. Love this idea. Please, please share it on the Facebook page. I would love to contribute!

  8. You’re amazing… and you stated exactly what I needed to say… only I wouldn’t have been able to say it that well. Nothing you wrote was “lame” and I think your idea to share your own books is beautiful. Thank you for allowing yourself to write this.

  9. Pingback: Acknowledging feelings | tazdazteaching

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