Handling The Terror Attacks in the Classroom

It’s the last week of school and it’s a happy, busy one: graduation rehearsals, field trips, field days, cook-outs, pizza parties, ice cream treats, thank you cards, step-up day, extra recesses, hugs and wishes and farewells. We’re cleaning our classrooms, clearing our heads, and putting the final touches on another year. All of us, teachers and students, have leaned into summer, and it may be a long week, but it’s going to be a good one.

An email titled “Resources for Discussing the Orlando Attack” lands in my inbox. For some reason I click on it. The words screech out at me, especially those in red:



I don’t want to read this email.

I spent Sunday and Monday sickened, yet glued to the television watching all the madness unfold and once again wondering how has our world turned so upside- down that a lone gunman, in the name of radical religion, slaughters and wounds dozens of people in a gay nightclub?

I don’t want to read an email telling me how to talk to my students about a bloody, incomprehensible event near Disney’s ultimate playground. I don’t want to discover how to “provide context” by linking to the attacks at San Bernardino, Brussels, and Paris. Because really, how can you provide context to senselessness?

As for “revisiting” the January feature “Can ISIS Be Defeated?” which the Scholastic sales pitch suggests: clearly at this point ISIS cannot be defeated. And I have no plans to share that sorry revelation with my adolescent students.

Nor are we going to watch a video on the rise of this terrorist group. This is the time of year for Disney videos: The Lion King, Frozen, The Jungle Book. Yes, this tragedy happened and yes, it’s necessary for our students to know about and process on some level, but there’s a time and place for that, and mid-June is when our hearts and our heads should feel airy and warm and free. No way am I assigning sixth, seventh or eighth graders a heart-wrenching skills sheet on this, the last week of school.

Jane Nussbaum, the Executive Editor of scholastic.com, sounds weirdly insincere in her “Dear Lynn” email (“Please feel free,” “You might also revisit our January issue,” “We hope that you find these resources useful in your classroom”). As if she is doing me a personal favor by providing these invaluable resources in our time of need.

It makes me wonder why Scholastic, the company of trade paperbacks from my childhood (The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle In Time, Little Women) is rushing to provide terrorism information and context to our children. It seems unsavory somehow. Misguided. Opportunistic.

I wasn’t in school today and my substitute reports that my students were full of energy and that she heard no mention of the tragedy. I am grateful for this and it eases the guilt I feel for not being there for them today.

Tomorrow we may discuss the attacks in Orlando. Or we may not. I’ll take the lead from my students. If it seems appropriate, we’ll sit in a circle and share our thoughts. If it doesn’t, we won’t. I’ll let them express themselves and even if I don’t quite believe it myself, I’ll provide reassurance and hope.

I’ll reassure them even as I’m thinking about the words my son sent me late last night, “If you ever find yourself in a bad situation, get to the nearest building, closet, whatever, and don’t come out until police clear it.”

This is a variation on the message we give our students during lockdown drills. And it is, as the saying goes, a message that sadly bears repeating, especially now, so tomorrow I’ll find the right moment to gently remind my students how to react during such a drill. Then we’ll all head out the door, inhale the summery air, and race towards recess.

Lynn Bonsey

About Lynn Bonsey

Who knew that in my sixties, I’d be simultaneously dealing with adolescent angst, adult children, and elder care? Days, I teach middle level students to read and write. Nights and weekends, I often spend with my father and mother who live in separate facilities in separate towns. My two siblings and I collaborate to ensure our parents’ quality care, which requires patience, vigilance, and constant advocacy. In the midst of all this, I lean on my husband, a retired educator, to keep me sane and happy.