Nearly 20 years ago I was teaching 4th graders on 9/11. We live just outside of DC, only a few miles from the Pentagon. We didn’t have school on 9/12 because there were still so many unknowns in our area. On 9/13 I greeted my students and we gathered in a circle, as we did everyday. I let them speak. I listened. I reassured them they were safe as much as I could. I reassured some that they were not at fault for what had happened (as my students who were Muslim and Sikh had clearly gotten that message). We read books about hope and caring for others. We wrote about the same.
Four years ago I was teaching 3rd graders. Different school, but just down the road. On November 9th we gathered in a circle, as always. And I listened as my students processed. Fifteen years later and fifteen years older, I wasn’t as quick to reassure them they were safe. I reassured them that we, the adults in their lives, would do everything we could to care for them. The majority of my students, at that time, were 1st and 2nd generation immigrant children. Their fears were completely valid. I didn’t want to overpromise. I did want them to be able to be children.
Today is much farther into the school year than 9/11 or the presidential election. In some ways I know my students so much better than I did on those days. But being in school virtually means I don’t feel like I know my students well this year. (There are indications that I may be wrong about this but my feelings impact my choices here.)
I spent most of our five mile walk this morning (my husband and I try to walk most days) thinking about how to be there for my students today. Again, I’m in yet another school. Again, same school district so still nearby. We can’t sit down in a circle and be together. I didn’t want to force a conversation they didn’t want or need but I wanted to be sure they had the chance to talk if they wanted it.
I opted to take our hour after lunch to give them that opportunity. I dropped the plans I had and reintroduced Newsela to them as it had been a while since we used it. I offered them the choice to read there or to do the math activity that is typically a part of our Thursday routine. To make space and freedom, I put everyone in their own breakout room with the ability to move into other rooms. I told them they could come to the Main Room if they wanted to talk to me about what they were reading.
In the chat there were some comments about how quiet it was. The consensus seemed to be that it was kind of nice to have that quiet. Students used the chat for help when they had technical problems. Some came to the Main Room with me to get help on various things. No one came to talk about the events of yesterday.
Maybe they didn’t opt to read anything about it on Newsela. Maybe they did but they felt comfortable with their understanding. Either way, I hope it’s because they didn’t feel they needed to talk with me and not that they didn’t feel comfortable.
I looked back at my post from the day after the 2016 election. These images give me hope yet again. Those kids are 7th graders now. I hope they are all doing well.