As I walked into school this morning, I couldn’t convince myself to return to business as usual so soon after the tragic events that unfolded on Friday in Newton, CT.

My instinct told me that I had to be honest with my students about how I was feeling and that needed to allow them space to process their thoughts and feelings.

I followed the same procedure with each of my four classes:

I asked them to reflect in writing about what was on their mind.  I let them know that it was ok to write about anything they felt was necessary.  I played some quiet, reflective music and just let them write for 10 minutes.

I waited until it looked like most students had finished writing and I invited students to share what they were thinking or feeling.  I let them know that it was a safe, non-judgmental space.  I began by telling students that I felt that as a teacher, it is my key responsibility to make sure they were safe, and part of that job means giving them as much time as needed to process what they were feeling.  As a teacher, I care more about each student individually than I do my content.  At this difficult time, it’s important that we are there for each other and we set aside homework, worksheets and quizzes in order to support one another.

And then I waited and listened.  I tried my best to listen attentively to each student who shared.  I resisted the urge to comment or respond.  I just listened and acknowledged that I shared what they were going through.  When a student asked a question about details, I tried to be factual but kept the focus on us and our feelings.

The students impressed me and made me feel proud to be associated with them.

In one class, we discussed the need to have a more coherent national policy toward gun control, care and support for people living with mental illness, and more emphasis on security in schools.

In another class, students needed to talk about the what-if scenario.  We reviewed our own safety protocols and talked about how the most important thing in a time of crisis is to stick together and look out for one another.

In other classes, we talked about our fears and how it helps to be able to talk about fear with each other and get and give support.

I left school today reassured that school is the safest place in the world and that I am honored to work with such committed and caring young people.

Looking back on what I learned today, I reaffirm that tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook Elementary remind us to appreciate every moment we have with our students and with our own children.

Today I rediscovered the wisdom in the words of Kahlil Gibran in his poem “On Children:”

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

While the investigators search for answers and motive, while the families of the victims grieve, while the politicians begin the debate, we who work and live with young people have to keep reminding them that we love them, that we will keep them safe, and that we are always ready to listen.


3 thoughts on “Affirmations

  1. Ann Knocke

    Joe, I am grateful for your thoughtful treatment of this tragedy. I can only imagine how close to home it must feel for your family. We are fortunate to have exceptional teachers taking care of our children. Ann

    ann knocke

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