At a loss for words

Did anyone else have a very hard time before class Thursday, January 7th?

Thinking about how to start discussing the terrorist attacks in the United States on Wednesday, January 6th? I spent the entire evening feeling sick about the whole situation. Then, an entirely new wave of anxiety came over me knowing that I would need to address it with my grade seven students.

At first I reached out to fellow intermediate educators, asking them how they were going to start this challenging discussion. They mentioned breakout groups, article readings and then discussions. Then I spoke to some friends about it who helped me come up with careful and sensitive things to say. In this profession, it is hard to speak about these topics (without being political) and to do so in a calm and professional manner. This attack was something that was devastating towards many people, especially BLM activists who were attacked with tear gas, etc. when they peacefully protesting in 2020.

The morning of January 7th arrived and class had begun. I always start the day with morning music and I found it appropriate to play the song “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. I found some of my students did not know what had happened the night before. A student in my class asked to speak on the mic and inform them about the terrorist attacks on the US Capitol. That student spoke very well and did a good job informing anyone who did not see the news, instagram, twitter or other social media platforms. I spoke about it for a while and explained the importance of positive role models/leaders in societies. Followers will always act on behalf of their leaders and this led to a discussion about positive leaders and how they have positively inspired change (Greta Thunberg, David Suzuki, etc.) Our conversation lasted about thirty minutes and was mostly student-led. Many grade sevens came on the mic to share their thoughts and they all did so in a respectful and calm way. Many students expressed their sadness for families that had children going through many things in the past year: forest fires, a pandemic, the death of Georg Floyd, the violent police response to BLM protestors, remote learning, election issues and then, this. We talked about how we are merely watching from Canada but imagine being in that city during this event, worrying about what may happen to you and your family. My favourite part of the discussion was when one of my students expressed her gratitude for talking about the situation rather than pretending it never happened and going about our day. This made me feel that the discussion had gone well and reaffirmed my thoughts about why current events cannot be swept under the rug (especially with intermediate students). We eventually went on with our day after first checking with all students, making sure that they were okay to move on from the challenging topic.

This week, we received an Emergency Alert on Thursday that informed us we are in a State of Emergency and a stay-at-home order is now in effect. This came during class time and many of my students own phones. We discussed what this means and I made sure to answer any questions students may have had. I discussed how the return to school date had been pushed back (that does not matter to us as we are always a remote class), plus the outdoor gathering size had changed to five and also, just to try their best to only leave home for important reasons. We had a great conversation about how the word “exercise” was now added as a reason to leave home. We continued a discussion about how mental health relates to exercise. This had tied in nicely to our healthy living presentations which had been going on during the week. We talked about how important it was that the government acknowledged that leaving your home for a walk or a run was an important thing to do.

After all the discussions were said and done, we did get back to our usual topics but as we know, the mental health of our students is the most important topic and we should always do our best to check in. This is especially important as we continue to learn online, with little to no face- to-face interactions with our students.

I am hoping everyone had a great start to 2021 so far and all that challenging conversations went as smoothly as they could go. I know I was extremely anxious about the conversations but I shouldn’t have been because my students prove to me time and time again their maturity and positive attitude towards their learning and overall outlook on our world.

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Updated: January 15, 2021 — 3:30 pm

The Author

Kelly.McLaughlin

I am a permanent teacher in the HWDSB, currently teaching grade seven and eight. This is my eighth year teaching! I am thrilled to be back in the classroom and look forward to sharing my experiences.

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