Teachers Juggle Breaking News with Lesson Plans

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When current events dominate the airwaves, like the bombing and manhunt in Boston last week, classroom teachers know they may called upon to help students process the news.

Martha Cruz, a social studies teacher at Flushing High School in Queens, said on Friday she shuffled her lesson plans to consider the unfolding events with her juniors and seniors.

“I’m trying to connect it to the curriculum as much as possible,” said Cruz, who pointed out Chechnya on a map to her students and brought up the topic of immigration, taking into account the suspects’ backgrounds.

She also encouraged her class to tie the events to historical circumstances to help prepare them for upcoming Regents exams.

Alex Pajares, a social studies teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business in Manhattan, had a similar tactic although he allowed students to veer into related topics.

“We talked about the media’s labeling of terrorists and the issue of privacy, given the role of social media in the manhunt,” he said.

Leigh Wishney, a teacher at M.S. X101 in the Bronx, said she wanted her students to focus on state exams next week, but couldn’t resist bringing up the news from Boston.

The conversation was prompted by two students who briefly left their backpacks on a bench during a class field trip. In light of the shredded backpack found at the scene of the Boston explosions, Wishney explained to her students the dangers of leaving bags behind.

“You may not think it’s a big deal,” she told her seventh graders. “But outsiders don’t know what’s in there.”

The class then launched into a long discussion that Wishney said compelled students to share their fears around unforeseen, catastrophic events.

“We also talked about if they feel safe going into places like the Yankee Stadium or Times Square,” she said. “And out of the whole class, about 20 hands go up that said they don’t want to go to public places like that anymore.”

“It’s just very sad that 12, 13-year-olds feel that way,” she added.

Martin Haber, a special education teacher at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, said his students felt similarly anxious and kept questioning why someone would commit a crime like the Boston bombings.

“They’re fearful,” Haber said. “I told them that we can’t let bullies rule us though, whether they’re terrorists or in the school.”

Teachers, share your strategies for bringing current events into the classroom. When does it work well?