Teachers Play Integral Role in Helping Children in Kenya (and around the world) Cope with Tragedy

September 24, 2013

I don’t think any of us felt less than shaken by the horrific events in Nairobi, Kenya this past week. As teachers, it’s hard for us not to immediately think of the impact on the children involved, whether they were at the mall, taken hostage, or just watching it unfold on the news, trying to grasp why something like that would happen.

1. Teachers provide a sense of order and routine: Years ago, I was teaching bilingual first grade at a public school in Illinois. All of my students were undocumented and poor. I remember Ariana (name has been changed). I remember she never had clothes that fit right. One day the principal alerted me that her father was trying to abduct her from the school, and police were making sure he didn’t gain entry. Ariana told me how she and her 6 siblings had gone to a shelter with their mother after their father had beaten her mother again. Ariana also told me she was always the happiest at school. Her world was unpredictable, scary, and uncertain, but our classroom was organized, scheduled, and orderly. She could always count on that each morning we would say the pledge, do calendar time, and then read a story. She knew how line up for gym class. She knew that everyone got a hug on their way out the door. She was good at the routine, and it was a comfort to her.

To all you teachers who plan out the little details of your lessons, who stay late to set up tomorrow’s science experiment, who pre-cut the shapes for tomorrow’s art lesson, who arrive early - just to have everything ready, you are doing more than just maximizing learning time – you are minimizing anxiety. You are providing structure and security in what can be a very insecure world. 

2. Teachers provide a distraction: You make funny voices for the characters when you read aloud. You teach math concepts with manipulatives instead of worksheets. You engage students with your creativity and your knowledge of what they need to stay engaged. You make learning fun. Yes, you are a good teacher because you know that’s how learning is most effective. But you are also providing students a mental escape from the world’s woes, from family dysfunction, from worrying and anxiety. You make concentrating on something else easy.

Teachers – you’ll never be thanked enough for what you do, for the hours you work at home, for the sleep you lose worrying about your students. You’ll never be paid enough to compensate for what you endure when your students are hurting, for the tears that you’ll hold back so your students can have a sense of stability, for the frustration you’ll cover with a smile so your students won’t worry, for the burden you’ll bare so your students can have a small escape from tragedies like those in Kenya. Just know that this stranger you’ve never met appreciates you, thanks you, and thinks about you more than you’ll ever know. But teachers play an essential role in the healing process when children have experienced or are currently experiencing tragedy, whether it’s a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or even a personal tragedy like a death or divorce in their family. Teachers provide these two essential components in a child’s life as they cope with tragedy.

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Until next time!