VA Tech, a teachable moment?

2007
04.17

In the book Trauma and the Teaching of Writing, several essays are devoted to discussing how composition instructors chose to deal with 9/11 in their classrooms, either on the day of or the days following. I was not teaching that day, so I did not have to make that decision on the spot. Later that week, our Director of Composition sent out a list of ?s that had been circulating on the WPA-listserv, and I asked my students to take some time to write private journal entries in reaction to those questions–I think we even returned to the exercise a month later to see how opinions may have changed.

When news of the VA Tech shooting yesterday hit the televisions, once again I was home. I thought about whether or not I should devote some time in my Expository Writing class today, but so much of the news reports were still speculative as of the time we met this morning. A lot was being reported about the use of technology during the crisis, which of course interests me because of my dissertation, but I didn’t want to make my students listen to me go on comparing this to my experience during Hurricane Katrina yet again. They had presentations on their research papers to give, which made our meeting even more self-conscious of how time was spent, AND then it turned out that one of my own professors came in to evaluate my teaching!

There were a few minutes to spare near the end, but I decided to not ask students to share their opinions/feelings just yet, mainly because I didn’t want the class to be a lot of “well I heard…”

Now that I’ve just watched the 10pm news and found out the student was an English major, I [like Dennis] feel guilty. My reasons for this guilt are for not yet allowing my students to talk this event through, even if that venting was all speculative. It looks like this student could have used a space in which to vent. It sounds like he wrote some aggressively violent fiction, which reportedly raised flags in his teacher’s eyes, but who could ever think it would lead to what happened yesterday?

This morning I heard lots of sirens on USF’s campus, but I shrugged it off thinking that campus police would be on high alert about anything today [it turns out it was a pedestrian/car accident]; however, now that I am reminded of my role as a teacher in letting students have a safe place in which to express their opinions, I’m also reminded of my responsibilities as a teacher. What if one of my students had written something truly disturbing? Would have I reported it or would have I shrugged it off as teen angst?

In my personal life, I tend to avoid anything that could lead to confrontation, and this comes through in my laid-back teaching style, but is that fair to the student? Since my scholarly work and teaching employs more and more personal narrative, I tend to think that every one’s individual story is valid, especially if it’s written well! But the result is that we never really enter that “contact zone” to grapple with one another’s differences.

I know that’s OK in many teaching circles, but when it comes to national moments like this one in VA, should I open the floor to potentially volatile remarks and emotions?

No Responses to “VA Tech, a teachable moment?”

  1. Wednesday morning I had already planned a very talky class in which we worked on thesis statements and research questions… there really wasn’t much time to devote to chat. My Tuesday afternoon class I had already prepared something on the Duke case and the Don Imus situation, and we needed to have time to listen to student podcasts, but we carved out some time to do some talking. I ask my journalism majors that if they ever found themselves in the middle of an emergency, NOT to head towards the sound of gunfire with their cell phone drawn. I’d rather they get someplace safe and get online, and start networking. Chances are that on our small campus, someone somewhere would have had a better view of whatever just happened.

    I’ve never taught a creative writing class, and have no particular credentials for doing so. But it’s not hard to read between the lines when students turn in literary research papers that are more like self-help books.

    Just yesterday, somebody posted a comment to one of my student blogs, saying that she was in an abusive relationship. I sent an e-mail to the author, but what else can I do?

    Writing professors just happen to have a job where we tend to get a close glimpse at (I’m going to mix a metaphysical metaphor) the dark underbellies of our students’ souls. Does that qualify us to be helpful at all?

    I’d like to think that I’m fairly well-balanced emotionally, but when I was in school I knew fellow students who were basket cases.

  2. kristin shi says:

    Something it teaches us that we cannot tolerate bullying…

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