Suggestions for Teachers
Suggestions for Teachers

During times of momentous or tragic events, teachers are often confronted with a variety of student reactions ranging from fear to curiosity to lack of interest. The following suggestions have been gathered and distilled from experienced teachers and may be helpful as events develop in our recent national crisis.

  1. Provide opportunities for students to talk about what has happened and how it affects them. Encourage students to also talk with their friends out of class, and, especially for younger students, with their families. A guided discussion activity is provided in September 11—How Did You Feel?

  2. With young children, be aware that families may have shielded their children from certain information. You may have students that are finding out about traumatic events for the first time at school. This can put teachers in a difficult situation as they struggle to both respect family wishes and help students cope with the realities of the events. It can be helpful to communicate with parents to let them know how the school is responding and, if necessary, how particular students are affected.

  3. Keep yourself informed. Guard your students against rumors and misinformation. Students need to be able to look to their teachers as purveyors of reliable information. It is better to tell students that you don't know an answer to a question than to offer speculation that they could misinterpret as fact. Suggest ways that the class can work together to gather accurate information and find the answers to questions. Two Web Lessons provide media-literacy activities: Fact Finders—The Media During Times of Crisis and Analyzing Rumors and Myths.

  4. Try to provide balance and perspective through discussions, and through sharing age-appropriate information. Sharing your initial feelings and reactions about what happened on September 11th can be helpful to the students, but it is also important to provide a range of perspectives about the events and issues. Share your expertise in helping them better understand the issues, historical perspectives, and facts. Handling Controversial Issues In the Classroom provides suggested strategies for teachers to use with students.

  5. Help students understand that America is not "helpless" against future attacks. Help them understand that their safety and future is foremost in the minds of the people making decisions, the civilians who work in law enforcement and public safety, and the military.

  6. Help students understand that a very small group of individuals were involved in planning and carrying out the terrorism. Challenge expressions of stereotyping and scapegoating. Reinforce the point that Muslims throughout the world, and in America, condemn terrorism and hatred. Guard your students against jumping to conclusions about Middle Eastern people and religions.

  7. Help students understand that America is not alone. Other countries and their leaders are in constant contact with our government officials and are trying to work together to respond to the terrorist attack.

  8. Help students understand that there are many different viewpoints about what happened, why it happened, and what should be done about it. They will continue to hear many opinions from the media, politicians, citizens, and the international community. Some of what is said may be disturbing for students to hear, e.g. "America got what is deserved." Encourage secondary students to use critical-thinking skills to form their own opinions. Reassure younger students that opinions are different than facts.

  9. Consider having guest speakers that can provide answers to your students' questions:
    • Representatives of the Islamic community.
    • Experts on Middle Eastern studies (ensure a balanced perspective, invite a panel if necessary).
    • Experts on foreign policy from local universities (ensure a balanced perspective, invite a panel if necessary).
    • Local firefighters and rescue teams.

  10. While it is beneficial to identify and respond to "teachable moments" based on external events, it is also beneficial to encourage students to maintain their scholastic and extracurricular routines. Remember that students are not adults and need a structured and normal environment to feel secure.

  11. For many people, including youth, providing opportunities to take positive action to help can be an effective learning and coping strategy. People across the country are collecting money for the Red Cross and other assistance agencies, and thanking the rescue crews for their heroism. CRF has provided a list of additional things students could do in How Can Youth Help—Service-Learning Project Suggestions.