Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our Classrooms, Our World

As teachers working to provide the next generation with the tools they need to succeed, we have been challenged greatly this year. In December, as I'm sure many of you did, I spent an afternoon and evening at home in tears, trying to determine how best to explain to my middle schoolers why someone would force their way into an elementary school and open fire.

Yesterday, I heard about the incident in the city where I live through frantic text messages and phone calls from friends and family. Away from home for the week with my students with no access to a television and only minimal opportunities to check my phone, I didn't know what was happening or why, and I was struggling between maintaining a calm persona in front of the kids, while frantically waiting to hear from friends and family working or spending time close to the bombing. I have never had to appear so at ease while at the same time feeling such turmoil.

Since we arrived here yesterday, my 7th graders have been running around outside, singing at the top of their lungs, laughing so hard their stomachs hurt, and being KIDS, as they deserve to be. While I can't be at home in Boston with my family and friends, seeing the kids so excited has helped me gain perspective. Since my students do not have their cell phones or electronics, and do not have access to a television, I've decided not to share with them the awful news from yesterday. They are kids here to have a great week with great friends, and I don't want anything to get in the way of that. I believe too that since this tragedy hits so close to home, it's best for each family to decide how to discuss it with their children.

I know there will be questions next week, and I know we have faced another time this year as teachers where we must try to explain what we cannot explain, and to comfort when we may not be feeling comfortable. But this does provide for us an opportunity we can choose to take or leave. We have the power to influence how a child reacts to violence and hatred. There are choices we can make everyday which influence how a child may respond when, God forbid, something terrible like this happens.

Our classrooms and schools are microcosms of our world. The culture we promote in our schools will impact the culture of our world's future. In every choice we make as teachers, we must keep that in mind and choose accordingly. When we are frustrated with a child or another adult in the building, we need to make sure we react by deciding what we can do to resolve the frustration, rather than blaming that child or coworker for what's gone wrong. In doing this, we can positively impact our culture by improving ourselves. In our classrooms, will we react to negative behavior with negativity and belittling? Or will we react peacefully and with understanding, while offering students a different, more productive way to communicate their anger and frustration? And in our world, when something as devastating and tragic as what happened in Boston yesterday occurs, will we focus our time as adults on pointing fingers and exacting revenge? Or will we rush towards those in need, share in their sadness, and then focus our energy towards kindness, empathy, and helping in any way we can? If we want our students to be peaceful, kind, and empathetic, we must practice what we preach both in our schools and in our lives.

Though we cannot turn back time and change what happened yesterday, we can make an impact in the future through the way in which we react to negativity and tragedy, and that is perhaps one of the most important and world changing legacies we can leave to our students.

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