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Teaching in Troubled Times

Like many of you, I've spent the better portion of this weekend following the news on the attacks in Paris. I've read article after article that provides any semblance of analysis as to the how and why attacks like these happen. I've also ensured to broaden my view to understand that the attacks that happened in Paris on Friday evening have taken place in other parts of the world with little to no media coverage. As I sift through this information and reflect on the state of our world I can't help to think about my students and what, as their social studies teacher, will I say to them tomorrow.

I can barely make sense of the state of our world myself, yet I know that it is my job to help the students I teach make sense of not only what happened in Paris, but to let them know that the innocent people of Paris are not the only civilians who face this type of violence on an all to frequent basis. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've had to have this conversation with students, but it is only one of many. Every year before I teach I know that a horrific event will happen across our world that will leave students feeling upset, angry, saddened or just confused. It's absolutely terrible to think that these events are seemingly inevitable and must be "planned" for in our curriculum. It absolutely angers me to even type this but I can't escape the reality of it.

Tomorrow morning I'll go into my classroom, sit in a circle with my students, and begin to talk about what happened in Paris and across the world. I want to create an environment where students can freely express how they are feeling and say what they need to say. It's important that students be given a space to express their feelings when these tragic events take place. However, when I engage my students in this type of dialogue I'll make a point to challenge how they see these issues. I'll ask them how we, as a society, should respond to these issues and I'll challenge them to take a deeper look at the root causes of these issues. I'll ask them to think about how an individual could engage in violent acts. What would that person have to go through in order to become a violent individual? I'll ask them these types of questions because I want them to have a thoughtful approach to these issues and that all human beings are precious and should be valued regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability or religion. I want my students to understand the history behind these issues and what we can do as individuals and as a society can do to create a more peaceful world.

However, the biggest challenge I'll have tomorrow is to provide some measure of hope for students. Too often I am guilty of focusing on the violence and devastation that has wreaked havoc over our world for so long. I take pride in teaching outside the textbook to give students a strong understanding of "where we are today". Unfortunately, that usually brings up difficult subjects that can leave students feeling depressed about the state of the world. As important as it is to learn about these issues it may be even more important to empower students to know that not only can the world be better, but that they can have an active hand in creating it.

Perhaps the best thing I can do tomorrow would be to bring a little bit of happiness and fun to the classroom. After all, many students come to my class having to deal with issues of poverty, racism, homophobia (amongst many more) and will now be asked to learn about violence and oppression around the world. No matter where our conversation goes tomorrow I want to ensure that students don't leave feeling overwhelmed and helpless. At the least I want them to know that there is good in this world, and all they have to do is to look around their classroom to find it.

And as for me as their teacher, I want to set an example as a role model of things we can do to support those who are suffering across the world. So tomorrow, as I talk with my students, I'll explain to them why I stand in solidarity with the people of Paris, Beirut, Iraq and Syria and I'll explain why I support refugees fleeing violence. I'll explain why we shouldn't respond to these acts with more violence and that dropping more bombs rarely solves the issue. Lastly, I'll explain that as their teacher, I'll do my part to create a more fair, just and peaceful world.


  1. Love your reflection about these events and what you'll share with your students. Also, leave them with hope. Fred Rogers was interviewed about how to reach kids after tragic events and he relayed a story about his mother telling him to look for the helpers. There are always helpers, off to the sides of the screen mostly but they're there: ordinary citizens, paramedics, police officers and firemen. Even as I watched the most horrific video outside of the Bataclan music hall, the helpers were there in the street, in the windows.


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