Related: Continuing Education, Diane Miranda

Talking about Tragedy in the Classroom


Everywhere you go, people are calling last week a “rough week” for our country and rightly so.  It was sad.  It was scary.  It was unbelievable.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get more intense it did.  When we thought we had the answers, we found ourselves asking more questions.  I found myself glued to the TV for news updates, clutching my phone for alerts, and refreshing multiples browser tabs to make sure I had the latest.

The events of last week in Boston, MA, Washington, DC, and Waco, TX, were on the minds and the lips of everyone.  Each time I spoke to my family, friends, and coworkers, people asked me if I knew anyone who had been affected by these terrible tragedies.  It was nice to know that people cared.  But what also came up in the conversations were questions that required more complex answers. They were wondering who did it and why?  What caused it?

Children are naturally curious.  They ask questions all the time.  Anytime I read a book, watch TV, or go out with my 20 month old nephew he inevitably asks, “What’s that?” “What’s it doing?”  Just like my coworkers, friends, and family were asking, I can only imagine that kids were asking their parents, teachers and mentors “What’s that?” as they saw the blasts in Boston, MA and Waco, TX .   Even after answering the “What’s that?” question, most kids would probably follow up with more difficult ones like “Why?”.   Terrorism, death, and accidents have no easy answer.

So how do we talk to our children about these tragedies?  Even in the K-12 classroom we cannot ignore the fact that these things are happening around us.  I was in 7th grade the day that the O.J. Simpson trial came down with a verdict. The trial was everywhere; it was impossible to ignore.   After lunch, my biology teacher told us what the verdict had been and we talk about it for the entirety of the period.  It didn’t have a whole lot to do with biology, but at the time, learning about our world and what’s happening in it seemed more important.

As we learn more and more about the suspects in Boston, it seems like we may not ever discover the real motive for the bombing.  Yet, even a first grader could tell that the bomb was intended to hurt people.  The question is “why would anyone do that?”  Upon hearing that a letter laced with poison was sent to the president, I’m sure anyone would raise that question again.

We really can’t answer all the “why” questions that our students ask.  We don’t know the answers.  But we can encourage our kids to talk about it.  We can help them to understand what may have caused people do to terrible things. We can ask our students to write down what they are feeling or what they might want to say to another student in Boston or Waco.  We can teach them about historic events that are similar to those we just experienced and their outcomes.

What have you done in your classrooms to address tragedy?  What could you recommend to a young teacher to help his or her class to come to terms with some of the inexplicable events in our lives?Flag T

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