Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Do Teachers Do When Disaster Strikes? They Teach

Twenty-five years ago during my first year as a teacher, I took my students outside in the brilliant Florida sun to watch history unfold. I learned that day that as teachers we may be witnesses to tragedies that we somehow later have to explain to the children in our care. I wrote the following in my first edition of Apples & Chalkdust. Last week a six year old died suddenly at a school where one of my students teaches. I dedicate this to her and the memories she takes with her from her first year of teaching.

Space Shuttle 
"Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him" - Aldous Huxley
Hundreds of squinting eyes focused upward on a cloudless Florida morning. Teachers gathered and waited along with their students for the show to begin. It's always great to bring the classroom outdoors. It adds a real-life quality to the lesson.

Finally, waving hands began to point toward the eastern sky. Applause and cheers built to a roaring crescendo. It was a proud day for teachers and students alike.

"Go, Christa, go!" they cheered.

The space shuttle, disappearing into the atmosphere, suddenly exploded, and its expanding cloud of debris streamed to the waiting ground below.

The applause turned to questioning gasps and disbelieving screams. Teachers hurried their students back into their classrooms like a mother hen gathering her chicks. The questions were many. The answers were nowhere to be found. Although crisis teams descended on every school, children continued to look to their trusted teachers for stability and comfort. Teachers became mothers, sisters, friends, and counselors.

Doing what they do best - they taught.

They reestablished routine, and they prayed.

Whether it's war, scandal, or tragedy, you cannot shut the world out of your classroom. Every once in a while, the worlds' classroom crashes into your own. Handled well, even tragedy can teach the most valuable lessons.

Teaching to the situation allows the situation to teach to you.