Friday, November 16, 2012
Teaching Through Trauma
Things are more or less back to normal for the New Yorkers who were spared the brunt of Hurricane Sandy (obviously, people who took more direct hits remain homeless and traumatized). Having never taught in an area that had suffered through that sort of event, I have to say it was an interesting experience.
The first class back -- after several days of cancelled classes -- was particularly odd. I use a lot of humor in class, and in general it's a pretty light environment. That tone clearly struck me as inappropriate, and was not my plan as I walked into the room. But as I got started, it also seemed out of place to do a standard, "serious" class, where the students and I would critique the Court's analysis together. I'm not sure why. Because it involved pushing the students a little,which might be inappropriate? Because that sort of academic-style critique seems trivial at a time like that? After a few minutes of getting a sense of the room I settled on a "just the facts, ma'am" approach, walking the students through the rules and the doctrine mainly through lecture.
Looking back on it, that seems to me the right approach, at least in the immediate aftermath. Others might disagree; in particular, I can see the value in returning to a normal class (without inappropriate levity) as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to provide a space unaffected by what was going on outside. I'm curious what other people think of this -- in particular, teachers or students who have gone through a trauma like this during the academic year. How does teaching resume? How does learning?
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I was in this situation. We were closed for a week due to the storm, and when we resumed classes there were students who had a real struggle getting to school, some of whom had been dispossessed through destruction of their homes, many of whom were in areas without power, heat, or easy access to transportation.
I thought the thing to do was to begin class by acknowledging the struggle that many people had, thanking people for making the effort to come, and then proceeding in the normal way, which includes a dose of humor every now and then to keep the class moving and the students focused on the task.
Posted by: Art Leonard | Nov 16, 2012 11:15:19 AM
I was in law school during 9/11, in NYC. Classes were cancelled for maybe 2 days following the attacks, but then went back as normal. I remember feeling weird that we were doing the semi-socratic law school thing while just blocks away the rubble was still burning and the rescue effort was still underway. But in some way it was a safe space, a normal routine, that was very welcome in the midst of all that
Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2012 7:40:31 AM