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A Local Teacher Expresses Her Thoughts After the Connecticut Tragedy

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(Photo by Elizabeth Gesslein-Corsale)

I am blessed to know so many amazing teachers. And I am proud to know area resident Elizabeth, an elementary school teacher. She has written an amazing piece about what happened in Newtown and how it will affect what she does with her students…plus a simple idea that can help us all cope:

Friday as horrific events were unfolding in Connecticut and hearts were being broken I was in my first grade classroom attempting to nurture and build the character of my students. It was not until being up all night sleepless with grie…

f for these families and this community that I reflected on the lesson that I was teaching. I had no idea how profound it would be after my day was over…This week, I tried a lesson that I have never done. A few years ago I had heard a song called “Light Your World” by Newsong. It tells a heartfelt story about a lonely widow and a young boy who brings her flowers and how that made such a difference in both their lives. I sang it with my students (of course and unfortunately, had to take out the word “God” in the chorus). Even so, the secular version was a fantastic song to teach about giving.After we learned the song the students created their very own Christmas light (glitter and all) with their picture and they had to finish this sentence: “I can light my world by…” The answers captured their child-like innocence and really showed the purity of a child’s heart.So it was yesterday that it was time for us to “String the Lights” across our ceiling to show our work.As events were unfolding in Connecticut and hearts were being broken, my students were all lined up holding their light bulbs. I had a very long piece of ribbon/string that I had to weave through each light bulb in order to make the string of lights for hanging. As the students stood there anxiously awaiting the moment when their light bulb became part of the string of lights I taught them this song that my church choir director sang with me what seems like so long ago:

“With a ball of white string I can do many things;
Tie a bow on a gift for you;
Fly a kite free, tie a star to a tree, strap a sling, make a ring for a trick or two.

Twist, twirl, and wind things, tie up and bind things;
But there are some things that string can never do.

String can’t mend a broken heart when its been torn apart;
Mend a friendship that’s almost through.

Can’t pull hate out;
Tie up fear, wrap up doubt;
String is useless when it comes to me and you”

After students were done laughing at my singing, we discussed some of the details of the song. I asked “What are some of the things that string is good for?” The students gave all the answers from the song and then a few more ideas were added like “string up Christmas lights!” (I love it!) Then I asked about the things that string can’t do…and the students nailed it. Answers like “can’t fix a fight” and “can’t pull hate out of someone,” and “Mend a broken heart”…and then out of the mouths of babes: “Oh, Oh, Mrs. Corsale, string can’t fix something bad that you do to someone!” And this is never more true than today…

I looked at my students and praised them for how smart and kind they all are…and we sang the song again, together as we finished stringing up our Christmas lights…and a little while later I learned of the events that unfolded in Connecticut and about the hearts being broken.

My first reaction was to run to my classroom and hug every single one of my students to tell them how terrific I think they are…I felt like I wanted to protect each one in my arms, fall to my knees and just pray…right there on our morning meeting carpet…but then my mind went to “oh…you can’t hug them or you could lose you your job, you of course can’t pray, you can’t show emotion…” so I sat in the teacher’s lounge trying to gather myself together before returning to them.

As I arrived, I picked up a story to read and tears were just coming down my face. Students asked me why I was crying and I said “Oh…you guys know I have new glasses and sometimes your eyes get teary when your eyes are getting used to them!” I lied…and every single one of them probably knew it, but I had to.

Yesterday, as events unfolded in Connecticut and hearts were being broken, I was in my first grade classroom making little hearts grow a little bit bigger with love, respect, kindness, and Christmas spirit. I was singing a silly song about a ball of string. My students were laughing, their spirits bright, but 60 miles North….tragedy was striking a school filled with innocent hearts and minds.

Today I am taking my lesson that I gave my students and applying it to my own life. I thought about the string song a lot yesterday and I realized something…the song never mentions how a string can help you remember something if you tie it around your finger!

Today and for the next 27 days I will be wearing a string around the pointer finger on my right hand so that my thoughts, words and actions are pointed in the right directions of kindness, compassion, empathy, respect, and TRUTH. This will be done in honor and memory of children, parents, teachers, leaders, and community members of Sandy Hook School. On Monday morning I am prepared to LISTEN to my students and will be asking them to join me in “The String Project” in memory of the victims and in hopes for a kinder more peaceful world.

This year, my students will not be getting the traditional holiday “goody bag” with pencils, erasers, and stickers. I will be taking the time to write a personal message to each of my students highlighting the gifts that they have to give the world. I will put the letter in a little box, wrapped with bows and ribbons…and inside the box, next to the letter, will be a ball of white string…

Go forth from this tragedy and “Light Your World” and please do all you can to make a difference in the life of a child today and every day.

 
– Elizabeth Gesslein-Corsale

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