Being A Teacher During A Crisis

Jun 29, 2021

I remember being a high schooler on 9/11 and watching everyone scrambling around the school in panic as our country was under siege. I remember one teacher refusing to turn on the TV so that we could watch updates from school “because he just couldn’t take anymore terrible news.” He fidgeted around the room and wouldn’t let students talk about what just happened. His temper was short and he was visibly distressed. This teacher was obviously disturbed and possibly experiencing a form of shock, which is absolutely understandable given what just happened, but I vividly remember that his reaction to the crisis freaked me out even more than I already was. The fear I had previous to his class was only amplified.
Later that day, I went to band class and the teacher told us not to worry about pulling out our instruments, because today we would just be talking with each other. He impressed on us the seriousness of the situation and talked about what it means to make a plan during a crisis. He didn’t mince words, and told us he didn’t know what would happen next and that he had fear. But he also exuded a tremendous sense of calm. He allowed students to speak, measured his words, and controlled his voice. And like my teacher earlier that day, his attitude and reaction to the crisis became my attitude and reaction to the crisis.

As educators, we hold a captive audience with our students. Our fear becomes our students’ fear, and our calm becomes their calm. Of course this is a burden that we have to carry. When most of us signed up to be teachers or administrators, we didn’t think that we would have to lead our students through events like 9/11, natural disasters, school shootings, and pandemics. But we do, and the reality is that this a burden we have to carry. We hold captive audiences whether we like it or not.

But it is also an extraordinary gift that we can be an example of peace and calm in our students’ lives. We can’t control the hysteria they see on the news or experience at home. We cannot guarantee them safety and health. The superpowers of educators have limits.

However, we can model what it means to be calm and collected. We can express our fears and vulnerabilities, but do it in a way that inspires hope and resolve for our students.

As our society deals with the Coronavirus, take the precautions you need to take and feel the way you need to feel. I have no desire to tell people not to feel or express their anxiety. But my hope for you as an educator is that you are constantly reminded of the impact you get to have on your students, that no matter what the world looks like outside of your classroom, you can model peace to them. And I hope this inspires you to ponder these questions:

What does it mean to be calm in crisis?

How can I exude and model this calm with my students?

How can I give my students the opportunity to voice their fear and anxiety in a safe way?

What am I doing to preserve my own mental health as I pour out so much energy for my students?

As the famous poster that hung from British walls during WW2 says, keep calm and carry on.

And also give plenty of air high fives and elbow bumps 🙂

Searching for new ways to not just survive teaching in a virtual classroom? Check out my online course, “The Thriving Virtual Teacher.”

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