January 25, 2010

Teachers: Help Your Students Cope with Disaster

Seeing the footage of the disaster in Haiti on the news these last few weeks has been difficult.  It is hard for adults to wrap their minds around such disaster, poverty and pain.  Yet I remember how much more difficult it was to watch the news during my childhood; I was a sensitive child, easily affected by the intense words and images.

There was an earthquake in California during my early childhood; misunderstanding the wreckage I saw on the news, I wrote in my school journal entry that millions of people had died.  My teacher wrote a note on the entry, explaining that in this instance, no one had died but many buildings had been destroyed.  While teachers can not offer this comfort to students in the case of the earthquake in Haiti, they can help their students deal with various kinds of tragedy.

  • Let them express themselves.  Encourage your students to express their thoughts and concerns in artwork, journal entries or discussion.  You'll be able to correct any misconceptions and let them vent their feelings and air out their fears.  
  • Listen.  Listen with a careful ear in the weeks following any tragedy.  You may be able to identify a student who needs a little extra help processing the graphic words and images of a disaster.  If the child is very distressed or obsessed with the incident, you may want to recommend that they see the school counselor to help them deal with the stress.  
  • Use technology.  During the attacks on 9/11, most teachers in my high school turned on their TVs so we could stay informed as information was released; some also used the internet in their classrooms to give us as much information as possible.  Given, this is NOT appropriate for all ages, but it is very important not to keep older students in the dark.  Not every school has such facilities, but if yours does, use them!  
  • Encourage students to give.  If your classroom expresses an interest, encourage a clothing or food drive or other contribution when disasters strike in the US or abroad.  This gives students a taste of generosity and a chance to make a positive impact on their world.  

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