Difficult Conversations

I was in my fourth year of teaching on September 11, 2001. Living just outside of Washington, D.C. our reaction to those events was likely more significant than in other parts of the country. One of the decisions was to not tell the students at the elementary level about the events. We continued as if it was a normal day. Schools were closed the next day. On the 13th, my fourth graders and I spent a lot of time talking about the 11th.

I don’t know what happened in primary grade classrooms. I wasn’t an astute enough teacher at that point to wonder. I regret not asking any of my primary colleagues about it. Did they discuss it with their students? We’d been in school one week. Did they go on building community and establishing routines as though nothing had happened?

My thoughts are here because this year has been full of events in the news that should be discussed. In our home, with our daughters (ages 8 and 11) we’ve had many fascinating and sometimes difficult conversations. In my classroom, none.

I don’t know where the lines are when teaching kindergartners. I feel certain there are parents who do not want their children to know about some of these events, who feel their children are too young for such things. As parents, I believe this is their call. My husband and I make decisions about what to discuss with our children based on our knowledge of them, their maturity, the ability to understand.

I’ve tried this year to use literature to start discussions of equity, bias, treatment of others, and more. If a student brought up an event from the news I would have welcomed it. But I didn’t feel I could initiate conversations about such traumatic, difficult events.

Thoughts? Have you seen primary classrooms tackle these current events? Should we being doing so or not? I would truly love to hear some different thoughts.

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