Teaching in Difficult Times
Responding to events that threaten student well-being
The last several days have been particularly difficult for members of the ETSU community. The plaques in Borchuck Plaza that commemorate the contributions of the five students who integrated the campus were defaced. This racist act violates the university's values and threatens the unity of the campus community. In the wake of these events, we would like to offer some ideas for processing these difficult and dehumanizing events with your students.

  • It is best to do something! Remaining silent in your classes regarding these events ignores the reality of the experience your students are facing. But what should you do? The tips from Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching and the New York Times Learning Blog can help.
  • Moment of Silence - Taking time to acknowledge hateful and tragic events and allow students to reflect in their own way is a small step you can take to indicate you care about these events and how each student may be effected.
  • Facilitate a Discussion - Set ground rules for difficult dialogues and take time in class to discuss the events. You'll need to be sure you allow sufficient time to explore all of the topics that may come up in this kind of discussion and pre-plan strategies for managing "hot moments" should they emerge.
  • Assign relevant readings or ask students to complete an assignment (ex. journal entry) that relates to the themes of the event.
  • Practice Empathy - Brene Brown writes, "Rarely does an empathetic response begin with 'at least.'" As in, "at least they didn't tear the plaques down," or "at least they didn't protest the pep rally." "At least" is a phrase that invalidates a person's experience. Empathy requires perspective taking, avoiding judgement, recognizing emotion in others, and connecting to that emotion.
  • Notice, Ask, and Refer - This advice from David Goobler's The Missing Course, challenges us to be aware when students seem out of sorts.If a student's physical appearance changes markedly, they suddenly start missing class, or they fail to complete assignments (when they once were punctual), that student may be in distress. Asking, "Is everything ok?", will signal that you care. It is important however, to avoid acting as an expert. Refer students to the Multicultural Center or the Counseling Center if they indicate they need some assistance.

Adopting one or more of these tactics can help foster and retain a relationship of trust and respect with your students at a time when they many feel threatened, hurt, and excluded.