Las Vegas: How do teachers respond when tragedy seeps into classrooms?

Students from University of Nevada Las Vegas hold a vigil Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. A gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel rained automatic weapons fire down on the crowd of over 22,000 at an outdoor country music festival Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Given the 24/7 coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the fear and anger many Americans are feeling, how should schools and teachers respond?

There is no clear road map for educators when a madman with an arsenal of weapons including automatic rifles slaughters 59 people and injures 520 others attending a music festival below his hotel room. And there is no shielding kids from the headlines when the smartphones in their pockets provide them second-by-second updates. Research shows 60 percent of  kids ages 10-14 and 84 percent of teens ages 15 to 18 now have phones.

Today, two Northview High School teachers share how they handle tragedies of this magnitude. Jordan Kohanim teaches Honors 10th and 11th grade English/Langauge Arts and is the school’s debate coach. Tania Pope teaches AP English Language and Composition and 10th grade Honors and is literary magazine mentor.

Thanks to both teachers for producing these pieces so quickly and thoughtfully.

By Jordan Kohanim

It seems as though at every moment there is a new death toll. After the recent events in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas, many students come to school with underlying feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear. Some have family members or friends affected directly by these disasters while others are just overwhelmed with the deluge of media reporting on it.

Jordan Kohanim

Teachers are faced with a difficult dilemma: how do we respond to these events?

My colleague and I approach this situation very differently for different reasons.

In my classroom, I have the luxury of a curriculum that doesn’t directly speak to these issues. While literature in general carries aspects of rhetoric, themes on humanity, and questions of personal response, I am able to use canonical literature as the vehicle for examining these concepts — thus avoiding the need to bring in current events.

While this may seem callous, I remember my school days and how classroom time was a reprieve from chaos outside of school. I loved the fact that I knew in school there was routine. There was order. There was not a need for emotional response. I craved the day-to-day regularity of school.

I feel my students are often crushed with so many powerful crises outside of my room, they appreciate not having to deal with it in class. If a student comes to me individually, we talk together without an audience. For me, I have the privilege of making my room a safe place away from inundation of catastrophes. That is my curriculum though.

By Tania Pope

In teaching Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, I have the luxury, in contrast to Mrs. Kohanim’s experience, of directly speaking to these issues. The focus of the class is non-fiction reading and writing of past and, mostly, current events. We face these very relevant social and political issues head on in the daily experience of the classroom environment.

This experience can get emotional. This experience can get personal. But what we work hard to do as AP Language teachers is to create a safe environment. We do this through critical analysis of the issues.

Sensational news is not the nature of the classroom; instead, we expose the students to vast amounts of reading material, and we investigate the issues from various perspectives. Discussion has to be supported with evidence and with the goal to achieve rhetorical virtue, a place where intellectual argument is celebrated, where divisive, tribal labelling is avoided.

Tania Pope, shown with her son.

With that said, yesterday’s tragedy and tragedies before this need time and context. Delving into discussion without all the facts may set us up for messy “alternative fact” lessons. We are very much still in the early stages of learning about the unfolding details surrounding the worst mass shooting in the history of the US.

I know today I will address, with compassion, that we need a little more time before investigation of the issues that will arise like gun control and mental health. For now, I will tell my students to listen to NPR, watch varying news reports, and read from various news outlets. For now, I will tell my students to think compassionately of the victims.

When the dust has settled, we will talk, and we will think, and we will work toward creating engaged students prepared to take on their scary reality with knowledge, a critical and philosophical lens, with the right rhetorical tools and language, and with the courage we need to make this place a better, safer, more tolerant world for all of us.

Ultimately, teachers are charged with a difficult task — one we handle at our own discretion. Just as all great human endeavors, both approaches have merits and pitfalls. We can only do the best we can with what we are given each day, just like our students.

 

Reader Comments 0

14 comments
MtSL
MtSL

Thank you teachers for your thoughtful handling of the situations your students face. These events can not be ignored. School should be a safe place emotionally and physically for our children, and going to school means getting back to normal. Your reactions will have long lived consequences as I see how my adult children react to the recent mass murders based on how those around them reacted on Sept. 11, 2001 when they were teenagers. You are around them more than the parents at that age, and your calm reaction and balance helps them see how to react. Helping them evaluate the information gives them tools they'll use for years. Help them be calm in the middle of horror, but also that there is more. Dandelions bloom and grow even when people try to mow them down, and so will we.

weetamoe
weetamoe

In Nice 80 people were killed by someone deliberately driving over them with a truck.  In China, a man killed 30 school children with a knife. In France, the carnage-- 50 people--the vehicle, a van ...

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"How to respond when tragedy seeps into the classroom?"

How about with compassion and a little common sense?  Let the students know you are there for them.  Sometimes, they just need to talk it out.  


Oh yeah, and leave the political commentary out of it.


Trump didn't do enough.  Trump did more than Obama.  Trump prayed.  Prayers aren't enough.  Blah, blah, blah...

Kathy
Kathy

How about if only police and military had access to military style weapons!!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Kathy

Interesting.  According to the diatribe put forth by the politically correct socialists recently, the police are the devil incarnate and are mowing down blacks indiscriminately.  And now, you want only the government to have access to "military style" weapons.

Make up your minds.


Oh yeah, and exactly what is a "military style" weapon?  Today's AR's and AK's that are available to the public are simply a semi-automatic weapon that fires one shot with each pull of the trigger.  Functionally, they are based on the design originated by John Browning in the 1890's.

Yes, that's right.  We had semi-automatics 120 years ago.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Two excellent, insightful teachers, worthy of the profession. Well done, both.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Why are the posters so far (except for the bot-generated spam with the foreign diacritics) discussing gun control laws instead of the topic? I think that in the classroom the kids don't care much about gun control, but rather the scariness of public life right now...as both essayists said above.  Both discuss how to make the classroom a "safe space" for worried students, which seems just right.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf


I would (gently) point out that the author also veered into the weeds,using your definition of "the topic".

Astropig
Astropig

It's painful to discuss such senseless violence with young people,whether they are your own kids or a classroom full of students.Some bad things that happen just don't make any sense.


But the worst possible approach to the issue is to exploit their fear and helplessness to convince them to give up an enumerated civil right for some ephemeral "security" promised by political vultures that only want to make them even more vulnerable and powerless.

alt2AJC
alt2AJC

Our thoughts today, rightly, are with families dealing with the loss of loved ones. But we also honor the selfless actions of others who gave immediate aid and assistance to the madman's other victims.

Why, though, do the media persist in deliberately confusing semi-automatic weapons with automatic weapons?

And why aren't we discussing the 497 people shot dead in Chicago since January?

alt2AJC
alt2AJC

Has any law enforcement official confirmed that an automatic weapon was involved?

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @alt2AJC


Sharp readers will notice that I will never get an answer to my question.


50 years from now (hello 2067!) I still won't have an answer,because an answer would embarrass the answerer.