How a Teacher Faces Her Students After a Mass Shooting
Keep Calm and Remain Positive
I just couldn’t go there. Yesterday, I was teaching a writing class at a nearby college. Over the weekend, a man had gone into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed eleven people. It was another mass shooting. And I couldn’t talk about it in class. Usually, when a shooting occurred, I’d mention it and sometimes, we’d discuss it, but yesterday, it seemed too overwhelming to talk about. I consciously decided to ignore the current events of the hour and be positive. Why?
My number one reason was because I felt sorry for my students. Most of them born around 2000, all they’d ever seen was tragedy and murder. Born in 1963, I’d had the opportunity to grow up without daily shootings.
Another reason I kept quiet about the tragedy was because I myself felt very fragile. Just coming out of a depression, I didn’t want to bring up something so negative.
A third reason was because I felt I had an obligation to maintain a feeling of hope in the classroom. Oh, there was also a bit of denial in my decision to not talk about the shooting. But more importantly, I didn’t want to give the killer “airtime” during my class.
It’s hard being the seasoned adult with a group of 18-year-olds. I’m always trying to do what’s best for them. That Monday, they looked at me with bewildered faces, kind of begging me not to bring up the carnage.
The university was supposed to challenge students, but they were facing challenges in the real world that might have crushed me when I was their age. The classroom challenges were practically nothing to them.
So I kept quiet and smiled. I talked about music lyrics and their music projects.
One girl was examining music lyrics that discussed divorce. She had found songs from different family members’ points of view; there was one from the estranged wife, one from the bewildered husband and one from the grieving child. She really did have a compelling project going.
Another girl was looking at music that made her happy, brought her up when she was blue. She played two of these songs, and they did do that—made us happy.
A third student, a boy, was looking at music about growing up. His two songs pinpointed the emotions of growing into an adult.
So the class was going swimmingly. We were ignoring the monsters outside the walls of the classroom.
And I didn’t feel bad about it. We had to maintain our sense of composure and sanity somehow.
“How does anyone ever completely emerge from depression in 2018?”
That was the question that was on my mind. But I was thankful that at least it was not physically painful to shower anymore. I was feeling better, and I was going to stay upbeat no matter what. Nothing was going to bring me down. Not Pittsburgh, not divorce, not the fact that I lived with bipolar illness in a time and place that was drenched in tragedy.
It was good to feel happy again. My joy overflowed. The students were engaged and smiling and learning.
And the ironic thing was I was being considered for Composition Teacher of the Year. One of my students had nominated me for this prize.
Was I doing the right thing? I had lesson plans and syllabi, but I was feeling my way along. I was in a pitch black room, trying to make sense of it all.
And if I felt this way, how did my students feel?
The upshot of Monday was that I got through the classes and actually managed to accomplish something. I taught them what analysis and interpretation were. I even gave them good examples of how to analyze their music lyrics. And I interpreted the uninterpretable.
Would I be Composition Teacher of the Year?
I couldn’t care less. Teaching through a raging depression and emerging out the other end deserved a prize regardless.
Yeager, L. (2018). How a Teacher Faces Her Students After a Mass Shooting. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-a-teacher-faces-her-students-after-a-mass-shooting/