Monday, December 17, 2012

Teaching through Tragedy

Today as we return to school after the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, teachers and parents alike are apprehensive about how to talk to kids about what happened. There are more questions than there are possibly answers. Why are 20 first graders dead? What do we say to those that are left behind?


The public wants to know why our schools are not safe. They want to know what we are doing about it. All I can say is that we, as educators, are doing everything in our power to keep children safe.

But it's not easy. After all, the United States is the most violent country in the industrialized world. What happens in schools is a microcosm of what happens in our society.

Schools are doing all they can to prevent violence to students and teachers. School security has increased exponentially. Zero tolerance for bullying is in place. Teachers receive extra training in order to recognize and diffuse suspected violent behavior. They are trained to identify “at risk” youngsters; what to do in a gun emergency; made aware of the different groups at their school and their issues/traits/appearance. Teachers are also trained how to “talk down” a violent student.

As a parent I don’t have that training. Do you?

After each tragic incident, teachers put aside their own fears and concerns and turn their attention to their students. Often when bad things happen, either in the world or in their communities, kids are in school. The first adults they encounter to help them make sense of it all are their teachers.

School was in session when JFK was assassinated.

School was in session when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

School was in session when terrorists attacked on 9/11.

And school was in session on Friday, December 14, 2012 when someone shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Although it would be preferable that parents are the ones who have the first opportunity to explain tragedy to their children, often it’s the teachers who fill that role. The lesson of the day is put aside and the lesson instead becomes “What happened? Why did this happen? And could it happen again?”

After 9/11 one New York teacher posted on the internet, “No matter how upset we are by the grim reality that our country is not as safe as we would like to believe it to be, we have to offer our children some semblance of security in their world.”

Teachers are on the front lines of this battle every day. And they’re scared too. Some of them have been killed too. For some, this is the reason to leave the profession. Like so many firefighters after 9/11, those who teach are looking for a safer profession. As much as we need them to stay, as much as they’d like to stay, the truth is they’re leaving in droves.

We need to make it safe for them as they try to make it safe for our children.

We need to thank them for taking a bullet for us parents when they stand stubbornly between violence and our children.

Those who go unappreciated for an extended period of time eventually leave. It’s one of most commonly cited reasons women ask for a divorce. Teachers are no different. A heart felt thank you goes a long way.

© 2012 Vicki Caruana. All rights reserved.