October is here and we are thoroughly bedded into this school year; new stationery, new shoes and new challenges! Today is World Teachers’ Day. Editorial assistant Eilís reflects on the brilliant job that teachers do and the specific challenges they face when a colleague, pupil or pupil’s relative has cancer.

Working as a teacher is both rewarding and difficult. The demands are varied and numerous: there’s the workload, marking and planning at home in the evenings, spreadsheets and admin, reaching targets, teaching engaging lessons every day, as well as meeting the educational and emotional needs of each individual student!

We understand that the topic of cancer can be a difficult subject to discuss, especially in a classroom environment. But talking about cancer can make it feel less daunting. Empowering young people with the facts about cancer can help to address any fears they might have, and dispel any myths they may have heard.

Tips for teachers
If a pupil at your school is affected by cancer:

  • Be honest: try to answer your pupils’ questions as honestly as you can. It is okay not to know all the answers. Explain that you can look for answers together.
  • Prepare: think about what you might like to say before the lesson. If there are pupils in your class who have been affected by cancer, ask them if they would like to be involved in the preparation of the lesson.
  • Ask: find out what concerns your pupils have and try to talk them through.
  • Explain: there are many things people can do to reduce their chance of getting cancer, such as living a healthy lifestyle and not smoking. Explaining this to your pupils may encourage them to make positive lifestyle choices.
  • Understand: be aware that a pupil’s behaviour may change if a relative has had a cancer diagnosis. They may become withdrawn or disruptive.

We have information and advice about talking to children when an adult has cancer. This covers questions children might ask and their possible reactions. Our free booklet Preparing a child for loss may also have some useful advice.

If a pupil or member of staff dies:

  • Tell pupils as soon as possible and give them the facts.
  • Reassure your pupils that it's normal to feel a variety of conflicting emotions when someone dies.
  • Try to maintain boundaries of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, but offer children the chance to talk about their feelings.
  • Try not to worry if children see you upset. This will show them that it’s normal to have strong emotions at this time, and it may encourage them to talk about their feelings.
  • Turn to your colleagues for help. They can support you when you are coping with a loss at school.

Teaching toolkit
Our Talking about cancer toolkit can help teachers to empower students to understand more about cancer. The toolkit is aimed at children aged 9 to 16 years and may be used as part of a citizenship, science or PSHE lesson.

The toolkit includes:

  • curriculum-linked lesson plans for Key Stage 2–4/P3–S4
  • activity sheets for pupils
  • supporting DVD clips
  • advice and guidance on teaching young people about cancer
  • useful contacts and publications
  • an introduction to Macmillan
  • information and ideas on fundraising for Macmillan.

You can order a toolkit for free here. Or, if you would like to give us feedback on our schools and teaching resources please complete our online survey. We would love to hear from you!

We also have information about different cancer types and treatments, as well as guidance related to the practical problems presented by cancer such as money worries and work issues. Cancer affects people at all ages and stages of life. If you are a teacher or pupil affected by cancer, remember that you can call our support line from 9am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, on 0808 808 00 00.

Finally, a very happy World Teachers’ Day to all the educators across the country; you’re doing a great job!


To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo