Back to School After a Natural Disaster: Teaching during the North Queensland Floods

This week teachers and students in the North Queensland region will return to school after  a horrific week of monsoonal rains. Record flood levels were exceeded, crocodiles were roaming the streets and hundreds were forced to flee their homes as they were inundated by flowing water.

The Flood

The rain started a little over a week ago. At first it was nothing special, a cool relief from the hot muggy atmosphere that is generally accepted as Townsville’s norm. But then it got heavier, and heavier, and showed no sign of slowing down. By Saturday the 2nd of February people were beginning to leave their homes and move to higher ground, many stayed. On Sunday, we heard the first reports of SES boats and Army personnel being called to “rescue” people whose homes were now underwater. By Monday morning the horror stories were circulating – ‘a mother and her 2 year old were left stranded on a roof’, ‘ a husband and wife had to swim from their home to the local shopping centre because nobody would come and rescue them’, ‘an irresponsible pet owner had left their dog tied in the back yard, only to later be rescued, half strangled, in the sweeping tides’. In Idalia, one of the worst affected suburbs, the sewage system collapsed, adding human excrement to the all ready rank, diseased flood waters.

By all reports, the terror of the 2019 floods far out-weighted any natural disaster previously experienced by residents in the Townsville region. Interviews with victims showed them smiling at the distant memory of 2011’s Cyclone Yasi and, for those who could remember the “Night of Noah”, the yet-to-be-named 2019 flood disaster failed to compare.

I’ve put together a collection of photos that attempts to depict the catastrophic extent of the flood. Most were found on facebook and I have done my best to appropriately credit each and every one – however with the share-re-share nature of social media I may have made a mistake. If I have made a mistake, or if a photo is yours and you would like it removed from this gallery, please get in touch so I can fix it up.

I’m currently completing my final student teacher placement and, personally, I have never had to deal with a disaster of this caliber. As stressed out as I am, worrying about my own home, friends and family I know that when I return to school I will need to be strong, put my personal grievances aside and think of my students. Natural disasters are particularly traumatic for children and youth so to make sure that I am the best teacher I can be when school returns I have compiled a list of things to keep in mind (there is a list of useful websites that I used at the bottom of this post if you would like more information!).

1. Remain calm and reassuring

Kids are like sponges, they easily absorb the energy and vibes of people around them, especially older people they look up to (aka. teachers). There will already be a lot of unrest around the school yard, emotions will be high and, not surprisingly, performance is expected to decrease for a period of time. Take a deep breath, and remember that they’re not giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time!

2. Plan shorter lessons, go at a slower pace and give less homework

After a natural disaster student’s socio-emotional wellbeing has to come before their academic standing. Robert Marzano believes that if a learner’s self and metacognitive systems are not healthy then the cognitive system (where the learning happens) will not work to its full potential and students won’t learn. If you can, a quick whole class meditation session, can do wonders for classroom atmosphere and student wellbeing.

3. Acknowledge and talk about students experiences

Allowing students to talk through their experiences allows them to release negative, pent up, stressful energy and often they’ll find that one of their classmates has gone through an extremely similar experience. Don’t forget about your school’s counsellor – if a student shows signs of depression or anxiety the most qualified person to give them the guidance they need is the school counsellor.

4. Be careful of what you say

It is important for teachers to be able to relate to one another and talk through their experiences with their colleagues, however when there are students near by it is important to be careful what you share because your words could easily make students more anxious than they already are.

5. Don’t forget about yourself

It is important to be strong for your students, but it is equally as important to stay in tune with your own vibes and make sure that, if you need to, you take time for yourself. Talk to your school administration (or the university administration if you’re a student teacher like me), don’t make any big decisions and don’t over do it – whatever the mess is… it will still be there tomorrow.

Useful Websites

NASP: Natural Disaster

Recovery after a Flood

Helping Children after a Natural Disaster

I hope this list was as helpful for you as it was for me! Please stay safe ❤ ❤ ❤

Namaste x