Teachers ponder how to explain rash of child killings to pupils

September 3, 2008 23:24
3 minute read.

As details of the death of four-year-old Michael Kruchkov at the hands of his mother in Tel Aviv continued to surface on Wednesday, teachers and other educational staff spoke of their reactions to the shocking case and explained how they were handling the three recent apparent murders of toddlers by family members with their students. "Cases like these are complicated," said Chava Friedman, a head psychologist with the Education Ministry. "With kids at the elementary school level, we don't initiate the conversation, but if they bring it up, teachers will find a way to discuss it with them as a group." It's a delicate area in which young children's sensibilities and fears can be easily affected, Friedman said. "Teachers have to open all of their antennas - their eyes, their ears, their hearts - to understand how something like this is bothering the students. In a crisis situation, opening a discussion is the right thing to, but if the kids aren't talking about it, a dialogue may not be the best answer." Friedman said that a number of factors, including the relative proximity of a violent incident to the particular school, were taken into account. "If something happens in a community, and the children are directly affected, then teachers would be called upon to discuss the situation with them. We have to ask ourselves how close a given incident is to the students before going into a dialogue about it," she said. Friedman said the case of Michael Kruchkov likely spurred his teachers to discuss it with students in their Tel Aviv classroom on Wednesday. Other teachers, however, said the case hadn't come up at all. "We're shocked," said elementary school teacher Leah Sani as she described her and her coworkers' reactions. "It's a terrible and unimaginable case, but we haven't spoken about it with our kids." "We're not going to initiate a conversation about it," she continued. "But if the children are talking about it, we'll do what we can to comfort them." Sani said that as a teacher, it was part of her job to pay close attention to how students were reacting to certain situations, but more importantly, to look for warning signs before a case like Kruchkov's took place. "One of our jobs is to look for children who may be suffering from problems at home," Sani said. "Now, that may be easy to say, but it's extremely difficult when you have 40 children to a classroom." However, she said, that was expected to change with the implementation of the Education Ministry's "New Horizon" reform program, in which teachers are required to give each of their students two hours of individual time every week. "I think that will be an improvement," she said. "I think if this had been the situation before, some of these other cases of children being abused at home would have come to light in the classroom. Sitting down with a child and holding a direct conversation with him reveals all kinds of things that otherwise could remain hidden until it's too late." Other teachers echoed Sani's sentiments. "I think teachers must talk to their students and really try to get a feel for what's going on at home," said Sara, an elementary school teacher in Jerusalem who didn't want her last name used. While she, too, said the Kruchkov case hadn't been discussed in her classroom, she thought it might come up in days to come, as the news continued to circulate. "My kids are young, but some of them have older brothers and sisters who talk about it, or they might hear about it from their parents. If they ask about it, we'll have to find a way to discuss it very lightly, otherwise, I don't see any reason to bring it up." Parents said they hoped their children would remain oblivious of the recent cases, since they were too young to deal with the details. "If my son came home and brought it up, I don't know what I would tell him," said a mother of two elementary school pupils. "I wouldn't tell him the truth, he's just too young to understand. But I think that in general, we're too obsessed with the news, and especially these sorts of horrific crimes against children. My kids don't need to know about it, it could give them nightmares or disturb them in more serious ways."

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