What Will You Teach Into?

I am a week away from bringing my second daughter into the world, and after yesterday’s horrific shooting in Texas, I find myself revisiting the same fears I’ve often had when I consider my progeny. Primarily, I wonder: what kind of world am I bringing my children into?

As I fretted about this to my husband last night, he reassured me with statistics about how unlikely it was that either of our daughters would ever be involved in a shooting, an act of terror, a horrific trauma.

That’s not what I’m worried about, I told him–not that they’ll die or be injured by one of these awful events. I’m much more worried about the world they are going to have to live in, day in and day out.

A world where a 26-year-old makes a conscious decision to attack a church full of people. A world where this incomprehensible event has become common enough that it is, less than 24 hours later, already being reduced to a sound bite: “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem.” A world where a conversation about terror and murder has become more binary than complex. It is; it is not.

I don’t want my girls growing up in a world that doesn’t know how to talk about, seek to understand, or attempt to solve these unexplainable problems–problems that certainly cannot, to me, be boiled down to a single cause or effect.

do want them growing up in a world where we try to talk about these things. A world where these conversations are never taken for granted, where they continue to happen, no matter how difficult and painful, as Kylene Beers writes in “Once Again:”

“Honestly, though, I don’t want tomorrow to be easier. My fear is that this day you face tomorrow has become too easy. My fear is that your students won’t expect that this horrific killing will be discussed. My fear is that tomorrow is just another Monday.”

As a teacher, a mother, and a citizen, I cannot agree more with Kylene. I feel more powerless in the latter two of those roles than I do in my work as a teacher, though, for I feel that teaching is where I can make a difference. I feel it is where we can all make a difference.

This week and every week, I hope teachers are having difficult conversations with our students. I hope we are not shying away from the ease of ignoring our nation’s pain in favor of teaching about comma splices or symbolism or character development. I hope our time with students is deliberately geared toward talk about these incredibly complex, nuanced topics. Kylene says it well:

“No one ever told you that you’d need to know how to sit with children or teens to talk with them about people in churches getting killed by a gunman or little kids in a school getting killed by a gunman or families at a concert getting killed by a gunman. No one. And you didn’t sign up for that. You didn’t. But they will watch you and they will listen for what you say and what you don’t say.”

I hope you are grappling with this and asking yourself:

For what purpose am I teaching?

And I’m talking about a larger purpose than the day’s essential question or the target content standard. I’m talking about how the day’s lesson fits in with the culture of the classroom, the messages we want kids internalizing day in and day out, the life lessons we want them to learn as painlessly as possible.

One of the texts my students and I study that helps us learn to frame instruction this way is Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening MindsIn class on Friday, we discussed Johnston’s closing claims (p. 123-124) about research-based instructional design:


  1. Our singular focus on academic achievement will not serve children or their academic development well.
  2. The individual mind is important, no doubt, but as the center of the academic universe, it is overrated.
  3. We have to take seriously the fact that the adult is not the only teacher in the room.
  4. Children’s social imaginations should be taken more seriously. They are the foundation of civic society.
  5. Our interactions with children in the classroom influence who they think they are and what they think they’re doing.
  6. Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We spent time unpacking each claim, wondering how to apply it to our varied content areas and age groups, but dwelled on the last claim:

Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We were reminded that none of us became teachers so we could fix comma splices. We became teachers because we wanted to change the world–our world, and our students’ worlds–for the better.

This Monday morning, I want us to keep that goal in mind as we teach and plan and reflect on how we’ll spend our time with young people. How will we make sure that our work together is meaningful?


If you don’t already see your work as a teacher as powerful, if you don’t see your role as one of an agent of change, try looking at this familiar work in a new way. Your interactions with children in your classroom influence them in powerful ways. You have the unique power of being able to help them develop their social imagination, their empathy skills, so they’ll never reduce a tragedy to a single cause with an unimaginable effect.

You have the power to choose: what will you teach into this week? Making meaning? Or making life meaningful?

Shana Karnes is a worrywart in the best of times, but an idealist in the worst of them. She is grateful every day to work with amazing preservice teachers at West Virginia University, to be mom and wife in a beautiful family, and to be able to write and think and learn with her friends here at Three Teachers Talk. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader


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11 thoughts on “What Will You Teach Into?

  1. […] They work, and if you’re skeptical, here are five reasons you’re wrong. When we teach into our students’ needs–both academic and personal–we make a difference. We enact […]


  2. […] A few months back, in the days after another mass shooting, this time in a church, Shana reflected on Kylene Beers’ piece “Once Again,” suggesting we really consider the purpose for which we teach in order to best move ourselves and our students forward with purpose and passion. I love Shana’s heart in this piece and her wrestling with the raw emotion of such events by asking teachers to reflect on whether making meaning or making life meaningful should be our goal.  […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mrsturnerblog November 10, 2017 at 2:57 am Reply

    The ideas in this post have been brought home to me by this difficult week in my school. We lost one of our seniors to suicide last Friday, and this week has been a week of trying to help our kids process and move forward. In the moments when we haven’t been consoling and trying to guide our kids as they process this reality, we’ve been cognizant of those folks who might slip through the cracks, who might need more help processing…who might be at heightened risk of making the same tragic decision. Oh…and along the way I’ve been trying to teach a little English.

    Lucky for me, I’m in a school environment where it’s easier to talk about and process these tragic things. Because I’m in a Catholic school, we were able to give kids a context for understanding and for grieving and for hoping. But the conversations were still hard and still require more from me than I ever considered I’d be called to do when I was sitting in those pre-service teacher ed classes. Sometimes it’s a hard thing to love teenagers, but that’s what we’re here for. Anybody can teach them syntax or analysis or synthesis of ideas. That’s not why I walk through that doorway every morning or why I stay late every day. I always tell parents that I’m here to help their kids figure out who and how they’re going to be when to go out into the world. To that end, we read and we write (and we read and we write and we write) and we have the hard conversations. Again and again. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes November 10, 2017 at 7:23 am Reply

      Sinead, the more of your thinking I read, the more I’m interested in what goes on in your classroom!! I really hope you’ll check out our call for contributors and consider joining us in writing. We just love your thinking!

      I’m sad to hear about your school’s loss. These stories are too common in our profession, so I’m glad we can rally together in ways that might help circumstances improve for our students as we think about how to build communities that nurture and engage rather than isolate.

      Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting!! ❤️❤️❤️


      • mrsturnerblog November 10, 2017 at 8:37 am Reply

        ❤️❤️❤️ You just made my week. I have been thinking of you guys as my sisters in the classroom and I’m always trying to think of ways to do more of what y’all are doing with your kids. I’m still in what I think of as Workshop-lite mode, but each year I’m moving closer and closer to full workshop model. I’m hoping to go to Boothbay Literacy Retreat next summer and that that’ll help me kick all the way over to full workshop but I’m not quite there yet. I’m building and planning and thinking (and probably being over cautious, but when I kick over I want to make sure that I can step forward with confidence about what I’m doing so I’m ready with answers for those who aren’t certain). I’ve done this with reader’s workshop (though I’ve got next step ideas planned, too), and I’ve built lots of credibility in terms of the greater number of kids reading and engaged, so now I’ve got my sights set on writer’s workshop as our next iteration. Baby steps. 😊❤️

        Thank you again for your kind words. ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      • mrsturnerblog November 10, 2017 at 8:38 am Reply

        I also need to figure out how to come and see all of you together to soak up as many ideas and as much information as possible. I wish I was going to NCTE next week!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Lisa Dennis November 11, 2017 at 6:40 am Reply

          Mrs. Turner, your voice and experience are perfect just as they are. I started writing here when I was transitioning to workshop too. Leaning into the struggle and writing about it can produce invaluable insights for newbies and veterans alike. No real pressure, we’ll just continue to love your comment conversations, but please consider joining us as a once per month contributor. We’d get you a consistent day to make it easy and eagerly await your voice with insights on making the move. The good, the bad, and the occasional emotional outpouring are our bread and butter. 😘

          Liked by 1 person

  4. […] got me thinking hard earlier this week. Her post “What Will You Teach Into?”, stirred so many feelings that had been resting heavy on my heart the past few months. The world we […]


  5. Alexandra November 6, 2017 at 12:55 pm Reply

    Beautiful post. Thank you Shana for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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