What can you say? When tragedy strikes in an educational setting, it’s hard to know how to respond. Personally, you are gripped with fear—it could have been you. Your classroom. Your students. As an educator, how can you explain the unexplainable to students and their families? How can you make them feel safe in the classroom?
NCTE has gathered a collection of resources on Responding to Tragedy in Schools: Supporting Teachers and Students to help.In the collection, you will find responses to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut from other educators, strategies for using literature and writing support healing, and related lesson plans from ReadWriteThink and NCTE journals. You’ll also find links to resources for helping students in a time of crisis and working with families and community members.
In his Voices from the Middle article “Difficult Days and Difficult Texts,” Bob Probst talks about the value of stories. “Stories,” he tells us, “will save us, if anything will” (50). Writing of the events of September 11, but just as applicable to the events in Newtown last week, Probst explains, “Part of the problem with understanding . . . was that we had an event, but didn’t yet have a story. All we had at that point was an image, a happening” (53). No matter how old the students we may interact with this week are, our job as teachers is to help them find the stories:
- stories of their connections to people in Newtown,
- stories of their own reflections on the events,
- stories of police and rescue workers who responded,
- stories of political reactions and implications,
- stories of the social networks supporting them,
- stories of the news media’s coverage,
- stories of their own outrage, sadness, and horror,
- stories of their fears and where they have found security,
- stories of how such a thing could happen, and
- stories of how we all can and must continue on.
As we meet with students and difficult events come up, the most important thing we can do is invite stories and respond to them as empathetic and encouraging readers. As Probst says, “Stories will save us, if anything will.”
Please visit the Thinkfinity Community Hub and share your stories—of how you cope, of how you help students and families, and of how you continue on—in the discussion thread How will you address the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary with your classes?
Portions of this post were previously published in My Virginia Tech Story on the NCTE Inbox blog.