The emotional work of teaching can be heavy on a good day, when all is generally right with the world. But on a day when students have had a weekend filled with real time clips of children in war-torn countries and friends running from bullets at state fairs, your upbeat Monday morning “How was everybody’s weekend?!” might devolve into a discussion that quickly takes you out of your depth.
Students are much more aware these days and with so many information outlets, older children with 24 hour access to phones can be confronted with more than just the latest dance videos on their “for you” pages. With the Ukrainian-Russian war, and now the Palestinian-Israeli war in heavy rotation in every media outlet, even the sunniest student may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Handling Bad News
Nothing sells like bad news and today’s youth are consumers of information they have very little context for. The same can be true for adults. How do we explain wars, murders, tragedies, especially those tragedies in which our inhumanity towards one another is on full display? And how do we convince young people that we are safe and the world is a great place when all the messages and media images say otherwise?
As a teacher, it can be almost impossible to know what to say to students struggling with the hard realities of life, when we can barely understand and process them ourselves. Still, when our students come to us, bothered by things beyond the classroom, we have to respond. Here are 5 small bites to support you this week and any time bad news lands on your classroom’s proverbial doorstep:
Five Small Bites
1. If you’re upset by events, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t always understand why things happen the way they do and that you are bothered by them too.
2. Don’t support laws (or politicians) that keep children from trying to make sense of the world through current event conversations in the classroom. Civic education includes civil discourse.
3. Support teachers with neutral, unbiased talking points and conflict resolution strategies for when conversations get heated.
4. Make time in class and in pacing guides for journaling or reflection. With older kids, talk about the messages from young people around the world telling their truths on social media about the war.
Finally, you don’t have to have all the answers. Listen, show empathy and above all, take care of your own mental health so that you can respond with equanimity. Trade late-night doom scrolling for other pastimes and be kind to yourself and others around you. We may not be able to change world events, but we can brighten our own corner of the world.