What Teachers Can Do When Tragedy Strikes

I think it is safe to assume that most of us have heard about the missing Jessica Ridgeway – the 10-year-old girl who was reported missing in Westminster, Colorado on Friday, October 5th. The story is all over the news (if you haven’t heard, check out FOX31 Denver’s live blog for the most up to date information). This incident is scary news to almost everybody: parents, students and children alike. Counselors district-wide are on consistent standby to talk to students who are worried, preoccupied, or downright terrified about this situation.  How else do you think Jessica’s school, Witt Elementary, is dealing with this crisis? How would we as teachers address crises in our classrooms?

I think it is important for each of us to think about our role in undesirable circumstances such as these. In times of crises, especially within schools, students look to teachers as their rock, their stronghold in times of struggle. I personally found this to be true when our school was faced with the tragedy of a fellow student committed suicide. Even if students do not directly know the person who has committed suicide, or has gone missing – the pain, empathy, and weariness is still prevalent. So how do we help our students cope?

As English teachers, we are aware that we are not counselors. Unfortunately we cannot halt our own classes to personally cater to each student’s emotional needs. We can be helpful, however, through our lesson plans while still implementing literacy in the classroom.

Some ways that we can help students work through tough issues include devoting the topic in “journal writing” toward the tragedy at hand. Maybe close friends or relatives of the “victim” could be in your classroom, and could be distracted during your class. But giving time to write about the tragic situation might be a good outlet of feelings so that your students can further engage in your lesson plan. It also would give your students time to reflect on the situation, decide how they feel, and decipher their emotions through pen and paper. Writing can often times be a cathartic experience, and in the case of writing through tragedy could ultimately have a positive outcome for the student. Another thing that came to mind, with this particular situation, is to write letters. Letters of support to Jessica, letters of comfort to the family. Whether the letters actually get sent out or are more of a personal activity is up to the individual teacher. This action might make your students feel like they are doing something to help those involved in this hard time. Students and children might not always have the chance to participate in search and rescue missions or have direct service with the situation at hand. But doing an activity like writing letters could help students and make them feel like they are being a part of something that can help.

Teachers need to be ready to handle all kinds of hurdles presented to them. Often times, teachers are the main source of support for their students during tough times; especially if they don’t have a positive home environment where they can constructively handle tragedies. Students and young children can be deeply affected by anything, even if it isn’t directly related to them, and it can show in their school work. It is imperative that teachers are attentive and sensitive toward all tragedies that arise, and cater to their students’ needs.


About Emma Steward

Coloradoan, yogi, future educator, vegetarian, nature lover, fine wine connoisseur of fine wines (Five truths and lie, or is it two...)

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