I wasn’t looking forward to going to school, today. In particular, I was ambivalent about seeing my 4th period American Literature class because it was with them that I heard the first reports of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
On Friday, just after 9:40 a.m. one of my students said, “Did you hear what happened?” I answered, “No,” and he proceeded to read the news that was coming in from his smart phone. At the time, there was news of a shooting and it was reported that someone had gotten shot in the foot. I thought, Oh, that’s sad, and I went about my teaching. Later, when the principal came over the loud speaker, about 1 p.m., I thought what I’d heard earlier must be much worse than it originally seemed. It wasn’t until my ride home, listening to news on the radio, that I understood the gravity of the event. Then, my husband had the coverage on the television when I arrived home. I’d become glued to it– waiting and waiting for the WHY?
Seeing my students again this morning, I shared with them how my initial response had been a passing thought because I/we/society have become so desensitized to stories like this. And, for that, I feel shame.
After spending the weekend checking in to the news and the television reports, going through my fair share of tissues, I braced myself for this morning. I knew I would cry. And, that’s okay. I’ve cried in front of my students before; it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I could not just go into class business as usual; that was out of the question. There is this event that has affected us all, in varying degrees of deeply. Their assignment for the weekend was to finish up The Catcher in the Rye in which the main character, Holden Caulfield, is a troubled teenager wanting to protect all of the innocent children from reality. What better forum for this discussion, I thought. And, so it proved to be.
With not only this class, but all of my classes, we discussed how we’ve been impacted, what we’ve learned so far, we’ve debated religion and the right to bare arms and how the autistic community is/ will be affected by the reports coming out. But above all else, we talked comfortably and freely about what they are thinking and feeling. Brave students shared personal stories. One who was adopted from China shared that she had experienced a mass loss before her adoption and how this event brought all of this back for her. Another admitted she’d had “some problems” of her own, and explained that some people just don’t know how to be happy even when attempts are made to give them the right resources. I thanked them both for being brave. Many of them cried along with me, so I generously supplied tissues. Moreover, I have a student teacher, in his last week of student teaching, I needed to be a role model for him, and at times, he was a role model for me.
We decided to create cards and letters to send to the Sandy HookElementary School which turned out to be a cathartic exercise for them and me. They spoke in small groups while they were drawing or writing which gave me a chance to meander around and speak to them individually. I feel like they became wholly invested in writing a sentiment that was just right. Not only would they be making others feel good by lending their support, but I could tell they felt better in expressing their sentiments.
When word got out that my classes were making cards to pass on to the victims’ families and the survivors, students who are not even mine stopped by my classroom to ask if they could contribute too. In this time of crisis, people want to do what they can however small to make others feel better.
While it was an emotionally draining day, it was a good day. I am so proud to be surrounded by such thoughtful and compassionate teenagers. Their insights amaze me all the time, but particularly in light of this event. It is an honor to be their teacher.
I’d like to share their work which needs no words to explain.