Changing Times Call for Difficult Conversations (Guest blogger: Dr. Ty Jiles)

As a young child I used to think that shootings, killings, and other violent acts were related to gangs, drugs, and robberies. At the very least guns were used by perpetrators and others that were involved in unlawful acts. After all, they were the “bad guys, ” and that is the life that they choose “you do wrong, and it will follow you.” Sounds like a novel concept but it was my reality. If you don’t break the rules, you won’t be penalized!

Well, the times have changed! There is not a day that goes by where you will not read or hear about a person who has become a victim of gun violence or some other random hatred act. Young children are not exempt from these horrific incidents as the TV, Internet, and radio provide play-by-play coverage of shootings both locally and nationally. The shootings and killings that occur now are not like those of twenty years ago. Today’s acts of gun violence often involve innocent victims, implying that no one in our society is exempt from gun violence and or completely safe. This is the message that is being sent to young children all over the United States.

During early October immediately after the Las Vegas shootings, I held class, and at the start of the session, we sat in a circle and verbally touched on how this horrific and violent act made us feel like as adults. Then I posed the question to my class what would they do if they were already teachers and had their classrooms full of students? Classes filled with curious students with questions and concerns. Most of the students did not have much to say and admitted that speaking about this would be something that they were not comfortable with doing so. That moment of silence made me realize even more that our future teachers will need a set of simple core skills that will assist them in dealing with tragic situations like this.

How did we get to a place where gun violence is so prevalent? Who is responsible for controlling gun violence? Has the government or political powers that be lost control? These and many more questions linger in my mind. As I grapple with these issues, I further struggle with thoughts about our nation’s children and their future teachers. How do I as a teacher educator equip my students to take their next roles and not address this significant concern regarding safeness? I feel very strongly about ensuring that teachers are prepared and are equipped with skills that they can readily assist them in providing a warm and positive classroom climate.

While it is imperative that we do not emphasize sharing disastrous events with young students, they will often talk about the different things that they have heard. At this moment we can listen to our students and promote a feeling of safety in the classroom. Then we as teachers can provide options for students to find ways that they can help and make a difference. On a final note, it is essential that as teacher educators we discuss with our student’s ways to handle questions arising from the various tragedies that our society continues to encounter.

Dr. Ty Jiles is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University. Her research interests are effective professional development methods, parental involvement and teacher motivation


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