An Urgent Message from Teaching Tolerance

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Editor’s Note: Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello sent this message in an email to newsletter subscribers on Sunday after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We also wanted to share it here.

When the news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School broke on Friday, we quickly issued some advice for teachers heading back to school on Monday.

Sadly, we had that advice ready. In the wake of last summer's shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. and at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., we had decided to write a magazine article exploring ways teachers could help students cope in the aftermath of violence.

We knew that, sooner or later, another national tragedy would provoke classroom questions. And we also knew that too many of our students--in cities across the country like New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Oakland--face deadly violence in their neighborhoods. The violence rarely happens in school, but wherever it happens, children are affected. Whether the violence is local or brought to children via the media, we know that teachers, counselors and principals stand alongside parents as the trusted adults who help children navigate the terrible news.

On Friday, the violence happened in school, a place where each of you work every day and to which you will return tomorrow. Most of the victims are children, just like those you teach. Others were educators, like you, who died trying to protect their students.

I'm writing to let you know our thoughts are with you as you return to school tomorrow. We know you've spent the weekend in sorrow, thinking about what you will say to your students on Monday.

Together with educators across the nation, Teaching Tolerance supports safe schools. Usually we mean that students should be safe from bullying, from bias and from negative messages that limit their opportunities to learn and grow; we trust that schools will not be places where life itself is in danger. It's heartbreaking to realize that sometimes they are.

We know educators are united by their desire to support, nurture and protect their students, but that sometimes it's hard to know how.

Here are some excellent resources with solid advice:

Tomorrow, all your students—and you—will need some extra nurturing. Listen to your students and other educators. Talk with parents about how you can work together to ensure children feel safe and know how to summon brave thoughts to balance their fears. And know, that this weekend at least, the nation remembered just how much our teachers care about our kids.

Costello 
is director of Teaching Tolerance.