|Photo credit: bodyguardblanket.com|
Is this the new normal? Have we already reached the point where another mass shooting doesn’t bother us? Will we just continue as normal and hope that we will never be in the cross-hairs of another mass murderer who has some perverted view of his religion?
Are our children aware of this “new normal” as they try to balance their views of good and evil in our world? Are they aware that in several terrorist killings children have been targeted, and in school shootings perpetrated by students, they are often the only target? They are more aware than most of us could ever imagine.
As our children prepare to start back to school in a few weeks in the midst of this "new normal," have we stopped to consider their greatest need this fall? Several of our local school districts are beginning new programs of integrating technology into the classroom. Teachers and students are excited about the possibilities of using all technology devices from cell phones to laptops as part of teaching and learning. However, I am convinced that our children have an even greater need.
As the 2016 Fall Semester begins, I believe the greatest need of our children is to feel safe. I would contend that children who have uncertainty and fear always in the back of their minds cannot maintain their focus on instruction. I know what’s going through your mind. You are dumping another non-academic task on my plate of requirements. Leave me alone and let me teach my subject. I wish the life of a teacher and child was that simple, but it’s not.
After the 9/11 attack on New York City, the United States Department of Education released Suggestions for Educators: Meeting the Needs of Students, a document dealing with the role of the teacher in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. I want to share a few of the suggestions from this document.
- Listen to your students and watch their behavior. Sometimes the quietest child may be the most frightened. Some children may daydream or have trouble concentrating on their schoolwork. Some may act out.
- Take time to reassure your students that their homes and schools are likely to be safe places. Show them that their school is functioning normally. Remind them that they are your children, and the most important task you have is to keep them safe.
- Help students discuss the known facts and separate fact from rumor. Avoid speculating or exaggerating graphic details. Try not to be an alarmist.
- Incidents have occurred since 9/11 where children of Middle Eastern decent have been threatened or taunted. This is an excellent opportunity to help children understand that most individuals who are from other countries are good people who live in and love the United States as much as they do and that one should make judgments on an individual basis.
- Maintain structure and stability through the daily schedule and engage in classroom activities that do not focus on the recent attacks. Children are comforted by their normal routine, and “back-to-normal” activities will help them.
- Remember that the images on television are frightening, even to adults. Reduce or eliminate the presence of television and cell phones in the classroom, where students may view pictures of the attack. Don’t take up the cell phones. Both children and their parents need to be reassured that everyone is safe.
- Remember that high school students are also afraid, but they do not express their fear in the same way. Let them know that being afraid is normal, and it does not mean they are weak. However, as a teacher you may also be afraid, but you must project a calm demeanor in front of your children.
Please remember that children often forget what you say, but they never forget how you made them feel.
As you begin this new academic year, may it be the most rewarding year in your professional life.
Bless you my children,
Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Other Helpful Resources
- Scholastic's Responding to Violence and Tragedy
- The Learning Network's 10 Ways to Talk about Sensitive Issues in the News
- The Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools' Coping with the Death of a Student of Staff Member