Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Resource for Discussing September 11th With Kids

I think the need to address historic tragedy and atrocity are some of the most difficult moments we face in our classrooms. Tomorrow will include some of those moments for me. I'm speaking, of course, of the September 11th attacks on our country. As a primary grade teacher, I also battle with whether to address such a difficult topic at all. My students are so young. Do I really want to be the one who exposes them to the absolute worst that human beings are capable of?

Sadly, that choice is often taken out of my hands. Either it's brought up by our administration on our news broadcast (that's what happened in my school this morning) or the students themselves bring it up.  So how do I handle the inevitable student questions and concerns in a sensitive, yet honest way?

Last year, I decided to address a serious topic as I do so many things, through my poetry. I wrote this poem based on my own view of the events of that horrible day. I was a first grade teacher at the time. It was an ordinary morning. My students and I were hard at work when an announcement came over the intercom warning teachers not to turn on the television. We were cautioned to continue our day as normal until we received further directions. I was totally confused. I remember thinking, "Why would I need to turn on my TV? What's going on?" It wasn't until I took the kids to specials about a half hour later that I found out what had happened. While my kids were safely out of the room, I watched in horror as the first tower fell. The events of that day will haunt me and most Americans forever. So how could I share that information with students in a way that doesn't give them nightmares?

In my poem, I tried to strike a balance between the horrific events and the hopeful aftermath. I love the quote from Fred Rogers.

"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 wanted to include a little bit of that help and caring that we saw after 9/11 in my poem. When I share it with my students, that's the section I keep coming back to. 

I would not share this poem with students younger than second grade. I really feel we need to protect our students' innocence about the world as long as we can. However, by second or third grade, students are exposed to the news, social media, and adult topics with more frequency. So I feel it is more appropriate by that time.

When my students and I read this poem, we talk about the meaning of it. I try to stay pretty matter of fact, but I encourage the students to share their own feelings about the poem. I reassure them that they are safe at school and that our country is a lot safer than it was then. I do not spend a lot of time on the topic and I refuse to dwell on the more sensational or gruesome details, but I do let the students discuss it.  Unlike my other poems, this one is not revisited throughout the week. We read it once or twice, discuss it, and then put it into our poetry binders.

If you would like a copy of the poem poster above, you can get it here. The poem itself is also available as part of my Patriotic Poems and Activities for Primary Grades

I would love to know how you address difficult topics in your classroom. Please share any resources or strategies in the comments below.

Thanks for letting me share,

1 comment:

  1. I was teaching 1st grade that day as well. Very scary day I will never forget.