Eve Shippens is an East Community High School teacher.

  • Teachers say more support is needed for them when tragedy hits
  • Three Buffalo Public School students have died in the last few months, taking an emotional toll on students and staff
  • If teachers want to attend a student's funeral, they have to do that on their own time

"Our kids are so interesting, diverse and entertaining," she explained. 

She, like any teacher, wants her students to live full lives — but sometimes that's cut short.

"This past spring, one of my former middle school students, he got shot on Sanders Road and passed away," added Shippens. 

In the past couple months, two other students have died. 

"It's something that's a recurring thing. Our kids are lost to violence, accidents, disease," she said. 

Buffalo Public Schools has a Crisis Team. When a student dies, the team is set out for short-term grief counsel — focused mainly on the students, not the teachers. 

"We are carrying a lot of emotion around that. This turns into teacher burnout, teacher illness and then teachers not having the same relationships with students," Shippens explained.

If teachers want to attend a student's funeral, they have to do that on their own time — a personal day. 

After 18 years, Shippens brought her "emotional toll" concern to the district.   

"What I've been asking for is a space to respect all of our grief. A place where staff and students can talk through some of their feelings together because we've all lost somebody in our school community and we are all feeling it," she noted. 

According to Amanda Nickerson, a professor of counseling at University at Buffalo, teachers can experience the same trauma and grief their students are going through when trying to help. 

That's why coping strategies and stress reduction techniques are so important. 

"Eating right, getting enough sleep, exercise, the things that they are probably telling the students and other people to do," said Nickerson.  

Shippens believes the district received her comments well and they're slowly making small changes. 

An important reminder that teachers, though professionals, are only human.

"There has to be awareness to check in on yourself. Make sure you're OK before you make sure everyone else is OK," Shippens added. 

Spectrum News reached out to Buffalo Public Schools about support they give teachers during traumatic times. The spokesperson said the Crisis Team does provide help for both teachers and students, but more support is needed. The superintendent plans to sit down with a group of teachers and staff who have had these experiences to come up with solutions together.