It was a Tuesday.
I was in Political Science class at Nazareth College when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
I don’t remember what I was wearing, or what I had for breakfast, but I clearly remember my professor’s response to those streaming in talking about what was happening.
“Be quiet. I’m sure it’s not true. You’re to stay in your seats and attend to class.”
Those of us with family members working or living in NYC ended up leaving, amid threats of failing from that professor.
I remember not caring if I failed.
I remember being afraid and confused.
It is uniquely difficult to be an educator after an event as horrific as 9/11, or most recently, Orlando. We alone are the recipients of questions that children are afraid to ask in front of their parents. We are the ones who hear the unfiltered thoughts of children trying to process events that they are not quite able to comprehend.
Our students are afraid. They are confused.
They ask questions like “Are all Muslims trying to kill us?” or “Does God really hate gay people?”
They worry about walking to school in their hijab because “Americans think all Muslims are dangerous and may hurt me.”
When confronted with situations such as this it would be easy to respond with “Talk with your parents.” or “We’re focusing on math right now.” It would also be plain wrong.
You see, we don’t have the luxury of being silent because we are uncomfortable.
We are the front lines in the war against terror.
No matter what your religious beliefs, no teacher supports the taking of innocent lives. This is where we must find the common ground to speak with our students about topics like terrorism, gender identity, and religious tolerance.
First and foremost it is our job (and legal responsibility) to make sure that every child who enters our classroom knows that they are safe.
Every child. No matter their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
We must create an environment where children can ask questions openly, without fear or embarrassment, especially when talking about emotionally charged events like Orlando.
We as a country have allowed hate speech to run rampant. Entertainment companies mimic news channels while spewing toxic misinformation designed to inflame the most dangerous ideas held in this country.
Teachers see these ideas taking hold. We watch children trying to find their footing in the adult world by fitting in with social norms. If we allow that norm to be one of hate, we have — in our silence and our complacency — forsaken the future of those sitting in front of us every day.
We owe it to our children to combat the bigotry and hate that create breeding grounds for acts of violence such as this to occur.
We owe it to our students and our children to be uncomfortable.
It was a Sunday.
How will your students remember your response on that day?
The following resources can help facilitate conversations in your classroom.
- Navigating the Orlando Tragedy in School Communities, a “list of crisis response and emotional support resources” via the New York City Department of Education
- Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate, a detailed Teaching Tolerance guide for school leaders