A Day After

By Jody Googins
SPRING 2021

In the wake of the Capitol Building riot on January 6, 2021, I was “doom-scrolling,” the term for how we get sucked into social media in the wake of tragedy or stress, pulled down into the abyss of endless, mind-consuming information-gathering (Fitzgerald, 2020). I had been at it for over 24 hours at that point, stopping only to eat, sleep, and (kind of) work. I was spending far too much time at it, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Like many others, I was having difficulty turning my brain off. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about all that was happening in our world and in our country, and the endless scrolling was an unwanted but addictive side effect.

Then I came across the following tweet from @JustinAion (2021): “A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching career, how many times have you had a ‘day after?’”

I felt my heart skip and my breath catch. A day after. My thoughts immediately went to February 15, 2018, the day after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I was teaching high school in Southwest Ohio and had watched the events unfold on the 14th. To put it mildly, I was wrecked. And angry. When I walked into school on the 15th, I felt like I was in a fog—but my students jolted me awake. They were angry, too. And motivated. In class that day, we talked and cried and hugged. We plotted and planned in the safety of our classroom community, grounded and secured by our common humanity. It was cathartic, and it was powerful.

February 15, 2018, was not my first day after; by then I had experienced many of them. Events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown school shooting, the tragic deaths of students and parents and community members—each was followed by a day after, when emotions and opinions ran high. As a young teacher, contending with these days was difficult. I was not prepared to tangle with the emotions of my students; I was not fully able to create a safe environment where we could dialogue and process their emotions and feelings. I wasn’t warned about a day after in my teacher preparation program, and I was often overwhelmed. All these years later, I feel more prepared, more ready, but it is still daunting and draining and scary and hard.

The day after the Capitol riot, which followed several years of increasingly polarizing rhetoric culminating in the election of Joe Biden in November, would prove to be especially hard for teachers across the country. This particular day after was so politically charged, so messy, and its timing in the midst of the pandemic, on top of incredible fatigue on the part of teachers, was harrowing.

My two best friends—both incredible high school teachers—began preparing for the day after on the night of the Capitol riot, before the events were even clear or understood, if that was even possible. Our group text came alive as we exchanged ideas and writing prompts, warnings about what we could and should say, and what we definitely could not and should not say. We feverishly exchanged texts, giving advice and input on plans for the next day. They both planned on creating a space for their students to ask questions and engage in dialogue, mostly through image analysis, writing, and reflecting. They were readying themselves for what the day might be like, preparing for yet another day after.

One of my friends received an email from her superintendent in the late evening, reminding teachers that, although facilitating conversations is important, they must always follow Board of Education policy, which states that teachers are forbidden from promoting a “partisan point of view.” A partisan point of view? Our immediate thought was that, in these times, it seemed like the truth had become partisan. Regardless, a veteran teacher could easily ascertain the meaning: Don’t talk about what happened. Adding more confusion, the next day my friend received several emails from various building administrators who were incredibly supportive and encouraging, providing resources for dialogue and also for teacher self-care and care for students.

My other friend received a similar email from her superintendent, perhaps slightly less censoring, but no less consequential. She was encouraged to provide a safe environment for her students to dialogue, but to remain completely unbiased and calm. She said the email was accompanied with resources about remaining unbiased. It was laughable, really. The notion of remaining completely unbiased and calm was a big ask, an ask that we weren’t sure was even possible. After all, this wasn’t our first day after, and experience had taught us well. Young people are not stupid, nor are they walking blindly through the world. They are not self-absorbed, and they are not incapable of critically assessing the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly attuned to the hypocrisy that adults around them practice, and they are quick to call us out.

When we touched base that next evening and debriefed on our days, I learned that their lessons had gone as well as they could have. Some of their students were so angry at the injustice that it was palpable; some of their students were clueless. Some students turned on their cameras for the first time in awhile; some kept them off, breaking from their norm.

These teachers were practiced in the day after. I was relieved that they had navigated their own emotions, the expectations of their schools and districts, and their students’ varying degrees of angst. I knew they would. But I could not stop thinking about how many teachers had struggled that day, and how many teachers were not prepared for a day after.

What are we doing to prepare our new and veteran teachers for the complexities of their classrooms, schools, and communities? How are we preparing them to contend with everything that students are bringing into the classroom? How are we preparing them to connect their classroom lives to all that is happening outside of their walls? How are we teaching them to look deep inside themselves for biases that might upend their ability to love and embrace their students and their experiences, experiences that might differ immensely from their own? I do not have quick, succinct, “a-ha” answers to these questions. But I do intend to keep asking them, to keep pushing my own pre-service teachers to consider what a day after might be like, what challenges might await them in their classrooms. Many people believe there should not be space in schools to talk about divisive events like the Capitol riots of 2021; that children and young people should be kept in the dark about the realities and complexities of the push and pull of democracy. I disagree. The kids are not in the dark. There will be another day after soon, and another after that. And those days will be hard. To pretend not to see the world around us and the ways our students are contending with their emotions, some of them suffering so deeply, would be turning a blind eye to what it is that calls us back into the classroom every day. I, for one, will continue to work with my friends and colleagues to meet the next day after with resilience, respect, and resolve.

Dr. Googins is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Xavier University, where she teaches education methods and foundation courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her research interests include culturally responsive pedagogy, curriculum, and critical discourse analysis.

References

Fitzgerald, S. (2020, July 30). The internet wants to keep you ‘doom-scrolling.’ Here’s how to break free. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/coronavirus-doom-scrolling-stop/2020/07/29/2c87e9b2-d034-11ea-8d32-1ebf4e9d8e0d_story.html Justin [@JustinAion]. (2021, January 7).

A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JustinAion/status/1347309286888779778

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