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Teaching Through Tough Times

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

“We are not trapped or locked up in these bones. No, no. We are free to change. And love changes us. And if we can love one another, we can break open the sky.” Walter Mosley

With the tragedy that unfolded in Texas last week, a feeling of powerlessness accompanied by real fear came over me. As the mother of a high school aged daughter, the violation struck close to home. When you drop your kid off at school in the morning, you should feel safe pulling away from the curb. The recent rampages by furious young men said to be targeting girls who rejected them leaves me anxious for my daughter and her friends. Growing up, none of my friends worried that turning someone down for date could become the rationale for mass murder.

Some suggest that we arm teachers. Engineers have created prototypes of futuristic classrooms with pod-like safe rooms to hide from the bullets. In Texas last week, after the gunman killed the girl who had rejected him, he shot deliberately into closets where kids were cowering in terror. Santa Fe had multiple active shooter plans in place, yet preparation and simulations somehow still leave us unprepared for the mayhem unleashed.

As the wife of a police officer, I live in a home that has a gun safe. My husband carries a gun all day, every single day when he works. Growing up in the military, most parents kept guns in their home and all of us knew to treat any weapon as if it was loaded. Yet when I try to talk to people about what has been happening in high schools this year, people tend to oversimplify the situation to either you love guns and want to expand access or you hate guns and want to restrict access. Most of the nation falls in the middle of this spectrum, yet it doesn’t make the topic any easier to discuss.

Yet we must. We have to facilitate these difficult conversations and begin to build sensible bridges between the two sides. So far this year, young white men have repeatedly channeled their fury into mass murder. In 2018 more Americans have died in school shootings than active service military personnel. In our classrooms, across all disciplines, we have an opportunity to provide the space to creatively come up with solutions that do not further divide us. As online faculty, our adult students are reeling from their own pain during times of national loss. Some of us keep our heads down, stay with the weekly lesson plan, and we move forward without addressing the recent events. I will argue that we can and should do better.

As facilitators, we need to be present and show that we care about the emotional reactions that our students might be experiencing. During times of tragedy, we have to monitor our discussion boards to ensure that we assist in helping our students process in a safe space. Although we all suffer loss independently and each agony feels unique, we heal through community. I hope that you have the tools you need to facilitate the difficult questions, reflections, and processing of raw grief that accompanies national tragedies of this magnitude. Faculty are the facilitators and leaders who our students look to in times of darkness for light to guide them. We owe it to our students to create classrooms that serve as authentic communities of support through fruitful dialogue.

Each week, we will be bringing a series of best practices, technology tools, and pointers for how to be the best online faculty member that you can be! Stay tuned!

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