Late Friday morning, one of my students barreled into 4th period and said, “Yo TeacherMan, you hear about that school that got shot up?”.
“What? In Philly?”, I replied confused.
“Yea. No wait” he said starring at his phone.
I now know he was confused by the postal abbreviation CT… Connecticut. Newtown, Connecticut - A town that in the last six days has been thrust into the spotlight.
I was truly at a loss for words after reading of what unfolded at that elementary school on Friday morning. After all, what more is there to say about a man murdering 26 people, 20 of them children?
By Monday morning, the news was saturated with images, stories, and conjectures about the shooting. I sat at my computer torn about what to use as my daily warm up.
[Every morning, I pull a couple of sentences from an interesting or relevant news story and write them with an error like and SAT question on the far side of my board. As students search for and correct the error, we discuss the story]
Though I knew the shooting was likely the biggest and possibly the only news story that my students had seen over the weekend, I felt that discussing it further might only exhaust the matter and draw out the tragedy and sadness. However, I knew my discomfort was nothing compared to what others closer to Newtown were feeling and I certainly couldn’t ignore this event
On the left side of the board I wrote:
Friday morning a 20-year old man forced his way into a Connecticut elementary school and began shooting. He murdered 20 children and 6 adults before killing himself, police still don’t fully understand his motive, but they suspect he was mentally ill. NO ERROR
I wasn’t sure what type of response to expect from my students. Would they be tired of hearing about it? Would it be just another story of violence in their already hyper-violent world? Would it turn into a shouting match about gun control?
As usual, my students rose to the occasion. In each class, we had a very different conversation, but all were very insightful, poignant, and respectful. The discussions lasted between five and ten minutes, though at lunch several students came in to talk in greater depth, but it was clear that talking about what happened was important to everyone (myself included).
Some of the topics we talked about:
- Mental health as an explanation, excuse, or warning sign.
- Safety in urban schools vs safety in suburban schools.
- Feelings of revenge after a mass shooting.
- Why there was so much confusion and misinformation in the media
- People’s need for a “clean” story or narrative after a tragedy
- Racial differences in mass shootings
- Whether to ever reopen the school or not
- Teachers sacrificing themselves for “other people’s kids”
At the end of the day, as my 5th and final class filed out of the room, I was left with more questions about the tragedy than I had six and a half hours earlier. However, I didn’t feel the same discomfort. I realize now that what I was feeling that morning was in large part due to not talking about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, by keeping my own thoughts and reactions inside. Though the short dialogue at the beginning of class, I was able to reflect with my students on a moment of trauma that we had all experienced.
It is impossible to imagine what the Newtown community is going through and I hope that they are able to find some tiny bit of solace in the fact that communities around the United States and around the world are uniting in their honor and in their memory.