The Tragedy

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21 thoughts on “The Tragedy”

  1. My thoughts are to absolutely keep this out of the classroom next week. Any discussion could backfire on us. Our classrooms are not the place for that. In fact, in my own experience with events of this nature, our administrators have expressly requested that we send kids who seem as if they need help to go to counseling and that we keep our classroom as much as possible focused on some kind of lesson.

    Reading springs to my mind as a possibility. Certainly it’s not story time this week, for those of us not in exams. It’s not time for fun. If you go to the TPRS resources page of this site, you can download some calming music and the kids can just do some FVR or SSR for at least part of the class.

    Also, the two new writing rubrics offered last week eat up large amounts of time. The kids can write to get through class so that they at least have a chance to keep their conscious minds more occupied than they usually are in our classrooms. Writing is a much easier thing than for them to do than experiencing the usual rigor we put them through in listening and reading CI.

    I did bring the shooting up with my classes yesterday. The reaction of most kids revealed to me that they hadn’t come close to processing it. Many asked me which school, thinking it was another Colorado shooting. That really alarmed me, because here are these kids sitting in a school thinking that school shootings are almost normal.

    That is the point we have reached. My own reaction to this is contained in the words jen offered from Govinda Kai above:

    …a completely new world beckons us….

    I turly believe that. Upon reflection, I can say that it is the only reason I have stayed in teaching, or what we call teaching in American schools anyway, which is far from real teaching, for three and a half decades.

    With each mind numbing little insult and with each new shooting, with all the just plain BRUTAL attacks from the forces of ignorance, I have always asked for and received internal help. The help that I have received and continue to receive to keep working in schools comes to me in the form of compassion.

    It is a steady compassion and it never goes away, and it supports me in my work in a way that is hard to put into words. It is a kind of ongoing hope in the face of tragedy. Those closer to real tragedy would have their own things to say about this, however.

    I don’t even know what my work what be without this compassion, this unseen concrete knowledge that a completely new world really does beckon us, and that it does not beckon us in the distant future, but is beckoning us now, in the next years in America.

    Compassion is why I work so hard on this blog, because I know that something is coming to us so fast in the middle of this train wreck, in the twinkling of an eye, that we will be changed.

    I guess I’m trying to say that we are not alone, and that tragedies of this nature are in some absolutely incomprensible way just a part of one of the greatest songs ever sung.

    Govinda Kai offers us hope in her words, and thank you jen for sharing them with us. Let us not give up. Let us continue in this work of bringing light into our classrooms in the best way we know, to counter all darkness. Teaching using joy and light and play IS an antidote to the unspeakeable thing that was shoved in front of our eyes yesterday.

    We cannot compare the pure darkness that happened yesterday with anything, but, if we are to be teachers, at least let us try to continue, in the most humble way, to teach all the kids that haven’t been murdered with the greatest degree of open and compassionate heart we can.

    Let us know that we cannot possibly do that by ourselves. Let us remember that we are being helped, always. He’s an on-time God. Let us remember in our prayers these families that must now go through the coming days. Let God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


    Lead: He’s an on time God, Yes he is Oh………
    Choir: On time God…… Yes he is
    Lead: Job said
    Choir: He may not come when you want him
    Lead: But He’ll
    Choir: Be there right on time
    Lead: I’ll tell ya he’s an
    Choir: On time God, yes he is

    Lead: You can ask the children of Israel, trapped at the red sea, by that mean old Pharoah, and his army. They had water all around them, and Pharoah on their track. From out of nowhere, God stepped in and cut a highway, just like that, now let me tell you he’s an…


    Lead: You can ask the five thousand, hungry souls he fed, on the banks of the river, with two fish and five loaves of bread, what a miracle, he performed for the multitude, Oh what he did, way back then he’ll do today for me and you.

    Repeat Chorus

    Lead: He’s on time
    Choir: On Time

  2. Hi Ben and hi to the rest of the blog community,
    I haven’t been here much, but just wanted to, well, ‘be here’ now. What a sad moment for those little children and their families.

  3. Thanks, Ben…for the song. It was calming. I’m not a very devout person but I believe that when people have nothing in which to believe, chaos ensues. The Family is broken, respect is gone, Money and Power and Politics override caring for others by those in a position to make change; those that wish to smash us teachers who try so hard.

    I switched from your video link to another by the same choir, something about “getting your house in order.” I think there is no better time than now, no matter what our beliefs or differences, to admit that we need to act together and get ourselves in order. I’m so tired of the talk-and-no-action we get fed every damn day. I’m almost 29 years old and I’ve feel like I’ve experienced 100 years worth of bullshit.

    I have to go to the mall soon with my husband to finish Christmas shopping and, do you know I’m afraid? In the back of my head, I have to wonder if the next news flash won’t be about someplace where I am at the wrong time.

  4. In the absence of any of my own words, I thought I’d pass along a few things. First of all, when it comes to dealing with kids, my own children and my students, I defer to the master, Fred Rogers. Here is a quote from him that is going around Facebook right now. He said:
    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
    I got this directly from the Fred Rogers website, which currently has a page up on dealing with tragedy:

    Also, here is a “Guide” that my head of school sent to all the teachers yesterday. It may appear to some as common sense, to others as bs, but if you’re not sure what you’re going to say to kids on Monday, or how much, etc. maybe this can be of help.

    Helping Children Cope with The Newtown Shootings
    Robert Evans, Ed.D. and Mark Kline, Psy.D.
    Unbelievably, there has been yet another school shooting, this time with awful carnage, 20 students and 6 teachers dead. And barely two hours from Boston. We have had too many of these in America. Each time, our sense of fragility looms even larger. We’re reminded that none of us can entirely guarantee our own safety or that of our children, our teachers, our colleagues and friends.
    There is no technology or template for coping with this kind of event. We feel shock and disbelief, sorrow for the victims, anger at its unfairness, despair that guns remain so available to those who commit these atrocities. And most of us think immediately about how to be helpful to our children.
    This, too, can seem difficult. We worry about saying too much or too little, about not having enough information, about saying the wrong thing. Fortunately, the things that have been helpful in past tragedies that have struck our schools and communities are likely to be helpful again. Though there is no perfect approach, these four points that can help when talking with children.
    1. Don’t over-assume what the events means to them. It is common for an adult to feel, “If I’m this upset, they must be even more so.” But this is by no means always true. Students react differently depending on their closeness to the situation, their own personalities, and so on. Some may be deeply moved, others less so. Some may have many questions, others fewer. Not all will be intensely affected. Showing little reaction does not automatically mean a student is hiding or denying his or her feelings. At the same time, a few students who have little immediate reaction may become upset later on, even in a way that doesn’t make sense to them. There is no universal timetable.
    2. Children and adolescents are remarkably resilient. They may become quite upset, but given a chance to express what they feel, most usually resume their normal lives—and often do so more rapidly than we adults. There is reason to worry about students who show sustained—not temporary—changes in their mood and behavior. In such cases, it is good to consult a school counselor or other professional. But most students do not benefit from extensive, probing questioning about their reactions. They do profit from simple, direct information and from parents and teachers being available to respond to their questions and to listen when they themselves want to talk.
    3. If you receive difficult questions it can be useful to understand these before answering them. Often a question is spurred by a feeling. Rather than plunging into an immediate answer, it can be helpful to learn what motivates the question by asking, “What made you think of that?” or “Can you tell me what you were thinking about?” Once you know the source of the question, it is easier to answer effectively.
    4. There may be questions you cannot answer, which can make you feel inadequate. But all of us are typically more comforted by straight talk than by false assurances. Rather than inventing a response, it can be much more helpful to say, “I don’t know,” and to ask, ”What have you heard?” or, “Did you have an idea about that?” And don’t worry if, in responding, you become emotional a time or two. It is alright for students to know that adults are moved by losses.
    Above all, coping with such an awful event is not primarily a matter of technique, not something best handled by a particular set of tactics that deviate sharply from one’s familiar patterns of communication. The regular routines of both school and family life are, all by themselves, a source of comforting continuity and assurance. Adults will rarely go wrong by relying on what is most basic between them and their children—caring and connection. At these times, your presence—your simply being with them, their knowing that you are available—can be just what they need.
    Drs. Evans and Kline are psychologists and school consultants, and, respectively, the Executive Director and Clinical of The Human Relations Service, In Wellesley, Mass. They are reachable at and

    1. Thanks so much for this Guide from Robert Evans and Michael Kline. It’s an important addition to the advice I’ve read from other sources. I’m grateful for the reminder to find out what the children are thinking before launching into a pat assurance that we can keep them safe. Good luck to all tomorrow.

  5. I’ve spent the entire weekend oscillating between numbness and tears (other personal things going on are just magnified by this tragedy, which accounts for some of the tears.) I teach middle school and we don’t have finals, but what I am going to do is tell the story of Larry Stewart, the Secret Santa, who was penniless and destitute until someone helped him and kept his dignity intact. Later in life Larry Stewart went on to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously to people on the street. He passed away in 2007, but now an anonymous friend has taken over. It reminds me of the Fred Rogers quote that John shared above, but I like the idea of ending the semester, and following this tragedy, with a story of someone doing some good.

    Here’s a link to Larry Stewart’s story if you’re so inclined to read it and/or tell it to students.

    And here is the link to his successor’s story.

    Maybe remembering those who help will help us all.

    I do receive comfort from Oprah Winfrey’s words: Whenever we lose someone we love, we gain an angel we know.


  6. Some of you know, but most probably not, that I am also an ordained minister. While I am not a clergyman of a congregation, I am called on by my UU congregation to ministry from time to time. Yesterday within minutes of leaving the school, I heard my first account of the horror and received a phone call from our minister. She is out of town and asked me to lead an impromptu vigil and circle of compassion at our church last night, so that’s how I Friday night. I am also leading the service Sunday morning which now requires that we weave this horror and our response into it.

    In the process, I have come across some really simple, but powerful pieces of guidance that will work for everyone. I will offer these tomorrow to the congregation of adults and children:

    1–Children, don’t let your parents keep watching the TV about this. Too much TV after an event like this is not good for us, and we need to be reminded. Get your parents to go outside for a walk or to play ball with you for a while. They already know the details of this sad day.

    2–Parents, remind your children of the things your family already does to keep you all safe—the little things and the big things.

    3–Parents, invite your children to tell you how they are feeling about all of this and to share their questions with you.

    4–Parents, the kind of affect you display in the coming days will make a big difference for your children. If you remain overly anxious, they will, too. If you find your center in the midst of it all, they will, too.

    (Reprinted today in Mother Jones magazine, taken from a 2011 article in The American Psychologist).

  7. I think that America felt this tragedy with the same pain as we felt 9/11. The universality of the loss of so many children at one time has made it hard for everyone to even breathe. When I saw a friend today, she asked me if this was that much harder for teachers. I think that it was. Not because we teach and this happens in schools, but because we are connected to the souls of children. We’ve made a commitment to protect them. We are allowed glimpses of their beauty on a daily basis and knowing that the world has been deprived of that hits us a little harder than most. If you are a teacher and a parent it knocks you to your knees.
    I’m also praying for whoever let this young man into the building. Innocently, either by accident, simply holding a door, or opening the door because he was, after all, the son of a teacher. Who would have thought? This poor individual must carry a horrific burden right now and needs our prayers.
    Thank you all for letting me know that my physical and emotional reaction to this event was not unique. I wanted to howl. In pain. Out loud.
    Prayers for all of us, and anyone else who needs them, today and each day forward.

    with love,

  8. Today I went running b/c that was the only thing I could do to temporarily relieve the pain I m feeling right now in my chest thinking about this horrific act of violence and watching/hearing all the details as they keep on unfolding. One of the first songs that played on my ipod was bloody Sunday by U2, and as tears started rollling on my cheeks, I thought these lyrics which call for ending ruthless violence were so universal. Instead of a bloody Sunday , it was a bloody Friday for us.
    Here are the lyrics:

    I can’t believe the news today
    Oh, I can’t close my eyes
    And make it go away
    How long…
    How long must we sing this song
    How long, how long…
    ’cause tonight…we can be as one

    Broken bottles under children’s feet
    Bodies strewn across the dead end street
    But I won’t heed the battle call
    It puts my back up
    Puts my back up against the wall

    Sunday, Bloody Sunday
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday

    And the battle’s just begun
    There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
    The trench is dug within our hearts
    And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
    Torn apart

    Sunday, Bloody Sunday
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday

    How long…
    How long must we sing this song
    How long, how long…
    ’cause tonight…we can be as one

    Sunday, Bloody Sunday
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday

    Wipe the tears from your eyes
    Wipe your tears away
    Oh, wipe your tears away
    Oh, wipe your tears away
    (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
    Oh, wipe your blood shot eyes
    (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

    Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
    Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

    And it’s true we are immune
    When fact is fiction and TV reality
    And today the millions cry
    We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

    (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

    The real battle just begun
    To claim the victory Jesus won

    Sunday Bloody Sunday
    Sunday Bloody Sunday…

  9. I am reading this while my class is on lockdown, because there is a suspicious character somewhere near by. We are the town next to Newtown, and have faculty families directly affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook. My kiddos are a bit freaked out. All I can say is thank you for your prayers and positive energy. This blog feels like a community and a lifeline in good times; I can’t tell you how good it is to know you are all out there sending good vibes. Merci.

  10. My first reaction was , “Oh, no! Not again.” Then I lacked the courage to read all the gruesome details, hating the voyeurism that transforms such a tragedy into another headline story. Wondering if by talking about it so much we aren’t priming another gunman to do whatever it takes to get his name into the headlines.

    Then I saw an appeal by Nicholas Kristoff on Facebook. A journalist named Anne Curry has suggested that in memory of the 26 people who were killed everyone do 26 acts of kindness. And I thought, yes, I can do that. It seems a very positive way to respond to senseless violence.

    Anne Curry: “Imagine if we all committed 20 acts of kindness to honor the lost children of Newtown..(or 26 acts, including the heroic teachers.) I’m in. A growing number on Twitter are in. #20Acts #26Acts What do you think FB friends? If yes, share!

  11. Our lockdown was lifted, and kids are mostly ready to play the “normal game”. They are a pretty incredible bunch. One of my first interactions with a student today was “Madame, do you need a hug?”

    I am all in for 26 acts!!

  12. Hi Ben–

    I am a high-school teacher is Surrey, B.C., Canada, where I teach English, Spanish (level 1 and 2), Social Justice, and sometimes Philosophy. I am a member of our staff comittee, I run the Gay/Straight Alliance, and I am a co-sponsor of the Poetey Slam Club. I “gained access” by signing up for your blog and paying my $5 monthly (I have a copy of your receipt in my email) as apparently all here do. I joined because I am looking to improve my practice, and TPRS seems the most scientifically-sound and fun way to do that.

    It has always been my policy to (a) discuss current events with ALL students (in age- appropriate ways) and to (b) ask them to think critically about mass media, both the American and Canadian varieties. At a time when we see Anderson Cooper focusing on the emotional stuff of the Newtown shooting, and Obama l
    Blathering on about how “too many” kids die, it is crucial– CRUCIAL– that we look critically at just what mass media– and the U.S. media– wants us to look at, and not look at. Yes, we look at these issues. It is my moral responsibility as a teacher and human being to ask people to think in broader contexts.

    For the record, the Connecticut shootings horrify me, and I cried when I saw the “Amazing Grace” tribute on AC360, and I cannot imagine a greater horror than losing students or kids to this– or any– violence.

    Lest you– or any others here– think my comments anti-American, please note that they are based entirely in fact, and that Canada’s worldwide cruelty isnlesser than America’s only because at 1/10 of your population, and having an energy surplus rather than deficit as you do, our capacity and need for cruelty is less than yours. However, in our atrocious ongoing treatment of Aboriginal people, the environment, the poor (especially children), and in our ongoing and ready acquiescence to the worst of your own foreign policy adventures (Viet Nam, Afghanistan, etc) we are shameful and as a Canadian citizen, I am embarassed.

  13. Thank you VERY MUCH for this Chris. I could not find you in the data base but the software is not the best and hard to keep up with, so that is fine.

    I’m going to keep your message deleted. It was just nasty. It lacks class. Of course, we are about free speech, but not of the political variety. We have one goal in this group, and we accomplish it every day – to help each other become better teachers. We find teaching to be so demanding that we must have mental support and also support in the very strange game of using comprehension based methods, and that is where our focus must be.

    I guess I haven’t been clear on that point, and it goes to show that any discussion of politics is best left elsewhere. Of course, I am the one who published the Piers Morgan link on on this thread so I will go delete that, having learned a valuable lesson about setting the example. Thank you for helping us keep our focus where it should be, Chris. Thank you for teaching me a lesson in keeping the group’s vision where it ought to be, even in something as horrible as this. I think we know where each other stands on this matter now.

    People (Chris you just sent yours in above) send in bios. Please do that. A very short paragraph about who you are, where you teach, where you are with comprehension based instruction and perhaps why you are in our group.


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