On Wednesday, May 25, teachers across the country found themselves facing a newly common kind of pedagogical dilemma: how—and whether—to address the fact that the day before, an 18-year-old gunman had entered a classroom not unlike their own and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers. “No one prepares you to sit in front of a fourth-grade class after a fourth-grade shooting and try to explain what happened,” Bess Murad, a teacher at a Zeta charter school in Upper Manhattan, told me.
But many of the teachers I spoke with felt that talking was important, to ensure that students got support without needing to ask for it, and information that was factual and age-appropriate, relayed by a trusted adult. They described anger, confusion, and sadness as their students tried to process what had happened. Some kids had personal experiences with gun violence; others didn’t know about the shooting, and their teachers had to break the news to them. The students were scared and had a lot of questions: How many people died? Did teachers die? How old were the kids who died? “It went on for a very long time,” Alex Lewis, a third-grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York, told me. Miranda Pellicciotti, an eighth-grade math teacher, and Stephanie Harmon, a seventh-grade science teacher, both working at a middle school in Pemberton Township, New Jersey, said that their students were fixated on how they would stay safe if a shooter came to their school, despite all the active-shooter drills they’d done. “We had kids asking about, ‘We have cabinets, can I move this cabinet? Can we turn the desks?’” Pellicciotti told me. “‘What would we do if there was a shooter on our bus on our way here or on our way home?’”
Murad and Carolina Hernandez, who co-teach the same class, found that their students’ confusion and fear gave way to feelings of anger and ultimately determination after they asked the students to write letters to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Though the teachers first had to explain what a governor was (and why governors couldn’t be fired), students quickly grew passionate. As the kids wrote, they asked for spelling help, and the two teachers began writing the requested terms on the board: greedy, injustice, responsibility.
Below, find excerpts from those letters and others written by students in response to this tragedy. (All student names have been withheld to protect their privacy, and parents have been notified of their child’s participation.) Some are addressed to legislators, while others speak directly to the families of those killed in Uvalde.