This past weekend a teenage gunman drove three hours to a Buffalo, New York grocery specifically to carry out a mass shooting against Black people. We know this because he said as much and recorded it. It was not an “apparent hate-crime” as we often hear said. It was a confirmed one. Unfortunately, the attack was successful. 10 people were killed and three were injured. Because of the scale, visibility, and graphic nature of the attack, it has been, and will be, on every news outlet for a couple of days. Your students will more than likely see it. It may even be on all of the kids news outlets that teachers use in school. Because of this, you will likely end up addressing it which is okay. However, be cognizant of how you discuss this shooting, or any other shooting in school.
Living in America adults have more or less become accustomed to shootings. That doesn’t mean they have no effect.
When you are addressing these events in class you need to consider the following:
- Is it relevant?
Not every class is the place for every conversation. I understand that we like to do cross-curricular activities and make events relevant to our personal lessons but consider the impact that might have. What if every teacher has the same idea? And, they often do. Then students are going from class to class talking about the same topic. That wears on them. I saw it firsthand during the George Floyd fallout. You don’t want to re-open the conversation again, again, and again. I realize this is easy for me to say as a social studies teacher because real world events are often in my lane. But before you open the wound on a tough conversation like this, make sure you have good reason and aren’t overexposing them to the tough content.
- Have students recently been touched by gun violence?
If you teach in a place as I do, students are no strangers to gun violence. When the violence has been recent, these kinds of conversations can be hard maybe even unbearable. You won’t always know if a student has recently lost someone that way, but if you do, be proactive and let them know it’s coming or give them a chance to be excused.
- Have students never been touched by gun violence?
These conversations with students in different environments can present the opposite problem. Oftentimes, losing someone to a shooting is hard to imagine and hard to empathize with until it has happened to you. That conversation needs to take into account the lack of real-world experience students have.
- Can you keep the conversation appropriate?
Do you struggle with management? Do kids often blurt out inappropriate comments in your class? If so, you probably should skip this conversation or have students do something independently. Even in death, victims deserve respect. Don’t address it if you can’t do it without having the conversation go south.
- Was the shooting in a school?
If the shooting is in a school, students are automatically going to be more in tune. That’s not always a good situation. Conversations about school shootings quickly devolve into chats about which one of their classmates is a likely “school shooter” or questioning the schools safety procedures. Those conversations can be the most impactful if done right, but be prepared for a different vibe when it happens at a school.
- Was the shooting local?
Be aware that students may know someone directly or indirectly involved. Sometimes, that person can be the shooter. In the past, my school had a shooting where both the victims and perpetrator had friends and family at the school. Be aware of those dynamics.
Talking about violence in society is important, but it is equally important to remember that not every shooting is the same, and not every student is the same. Maturity levels and emotions can vary. Some students need an outlet. Some need an escape. It is on you as the educator to figure that out and plan accordingly.