No matter how much we would like to turn back the clock to last Thursday and erase the events of Friday, we can not. We must go into school tomorrow with a different reality. As I have been thinking about this, three ideas became guideposts for my thinking in how to find a way to rebuild and recreate the security of being in school. The children who return to our classrooms need to be cared for, but how do we do it?
The first guidepost is that it is our job to create as much security and calm around our students and throughout our schools as we can. We need to think back to September and remember how we established routines and created a culture of learning at school. Our students need desperately to feel safe, and the established daily routines can provide that. Take attendance, collect homework, introduce lessons in the same ways that we have been doing it since the beginning of the year. Each of these routines is a security blanket of normalcy in a world, especially the world of school, that has gotten out of kilter. Each activity that they do that follows the pattern, one that they can do without thinking, helps to rebuild their school world. Each one brings back some of what was lost, because it reclaims what was theirs.
Another way to help our students gain a sense of stability is by providing them with a way to take some action to help, even a small one. For those who want to, they can write to the elementary school, sending a picture and writing a poem, anything that allows them to reach and and share their support.
Sandy Hook Elementary School, 12 Dickenson Drive, Newtown, CT 06482
The second guidepost for me is to remember that we are not experts in this crisis. We are teachers. It is our job to be open to conversations that may arise, whether in the classroom or in the halls. There will be students who need to talk, who need to ask questions and wrestle with what has happened with an adult. This can be tricky, because some students are going to have lots of information and others will have been sheltered from it. It is important that we give them chances to talk, but it is equally important to not pretend to be the experts. As we have all found, more misinformation comes out each hour than valid facts. Judgments are being built on the latest news flash.
It is not our job to be reporters or news anchors, pretending to know it all. We must avoid trying to be scholars of a situation for which there are no answers to the “Why?” or even many of the “How” questions. As we listen, with the heart of a teacher, to their thinking and hear their questions , our goal must be to rebuild each student’s sense of safety. Before we respond, we must ask ourselves if we are accomplishing that goal. Are we becoming caught up in an exchange of “What do you know?” or are we helping our students? There is nothing wrong in listening and not having an answer. To much of what they will share, a simple “I know,” is all that is needed. These are hard times without easy solutions.
The third guidepost is to remember that fear and pain do not disappear in a day. We tend, in America, to want to push our tragedies quickly behind us, acting as if the impact did not travel deep into our hearts and souls. This one will affect us and our students for the rest of this school year and into the future. We should expect that and stay alert for signs of distress that may take weeks or months to manifest themselves. Just as we will have these events flash into our minds, so will the students. We need to watch for that and then allow them the freedom and safety to talk, whenever they need to do so.
We are teachers, and while we do not have all of the answers, our hearts are with our students. We spend our lives working for them. Tomorrow and in the days that follow we will seek to serve them with all that we have. I am in awe of being part of a profession where among the dead were educators who gave all that they had to guard the children in their care. We will carry on, for them and for the children!