On the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, I remember exactly where I was on that day in 1986. I was a first year teacher and chronicled that day in my book Apples & Chalkdust.
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 mother hens gathering their 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 re-established 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 world's 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.