HUFFINGTON POST
11/15/2015 09:26 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2015

Paris Teachers Prepare To Discuss Attacks With Worried Students

"I'd like to encourage them to think about how we can take care of each other."
Children and adults lay flowers and light candles at a makeshift memorial along a police cordon set up close to the Bataclan
MIGUEL MEDINA via Getty Images
Children and adults lay flowers and light candles at a makeshift memorial along a police cordon set up close to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

PARIS -- On Jan. 7, 2015, there was suffocating alarm, horror and fear in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. The next day, wounds still fresh, it was necessary to keep going. It was a difficult day for schoolteachers in France, faced with students and their questions, and at times their anger.

On Monday, Nov. 16, there will be a similar challenge.

HuffPost France asked teachers and school principals about their expectations for the first school week after Friday's Paris attacks and the messages they hoped to send to the students.

I'd like to encourage them to think about how we can take care of each other. Marie-Sandrine, a high school teacher

"This Monday, I'll start my day with a 12th-grade literature class. It's a class that I'm close to, especially since I already lived through the attacks of last January with them," said Marie-Sandrine, a high school teacher. "I end my morning with a 10th-grade class that lasts till 12:20 p.m."

On Sunday, the teacher noticed that discussions were already underway in online teachers' forums, on social networks and over the phone. "The atmosphere is very different from the day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo," she said. "In her address, the minister of education thanked us for our professionalism. She has given us resources to tackle the topic in class. From now on, it will be important to talk about a 'minute of contemplation' rather than a 'minute of silence.'"

Marie-Sandrine said that she's received emails and messages from students and former students, asking if she is safe and well. "They needed to be comforted," she said.

"On Monday, I'm going to try to welcome their thoughts with an open mind. 'Do you want to talk about it?' That's how I'll start. I'm not afraid of their hostile reactions because unlike January, I know that nobody can say, 'They were asking for it.' I'm more afraid of the state of panic, of fear, or an absence of lightness. Some students who got in contact with me have told me, 'Miss, I'm scared.'"

"Teenagers aren't conscious of the fact that they could die. They don't think about it like adults do. I'll tell them that death is part of life," she said. "I'd also like to teach them how to tell the difference between news and rumors. Finally, I'd like to encourage them to think about how we can take care of each other. If all of that is too heavy, we'll stop, and I'll have them listen to the song 'My France' by Jean Ferrat, and then we'll go on with class."

A moment of silence would be the most simple, collective way through which to offer compassion." Phillipe Tournier, secretary general of a trade union for principals and also a principal of a high school in Paris

Phillipe Tournier, secretary general of SNPDEN, a trade union for school principals, and a principal himself of a high school in Paris, believes that "the situation is very different and much simpler than during the [2012] Merah shootings or after Charlie Hebdo."

He said that the fear and the confusion over Friday's attacks are not as severe as they were after the Charlie Hebdo shooting. "We noticed at the time that a significant number of students didn't come to school that morning so that they wouldn't have to do the minute of silence or so that they wouldn't have to refuse to do it," he said. Tournier doesn't expect the same reaction this week, "as there isn't the same controversial backdrop." 

He also believes that for high school students, it's probably easy to relate to people having a drink out or going to a concert.

"This period of discussion is inevitable, it must be done, but the whole day tomorrow doesn't need to revolve around it," he said. "A moment of silence would be the most simple, collective way through which to offer compassion." 

I want to remind the students that they're all French, that they're at home, and that they must be proud of their country. Leila, a French teacher at the Val d'Oise Middle School

Leila, a French teacher at the Val d'Oise Middle School, laid out her plans for the week as follows: "I want to remind the students that they're all French, that they're at home, and that they must be proud of their country."

She believes that "it's essential at this critical time to work toward national solidarity [and] move beyond fictional community divisions that have been deliberately upheld for far too long."

Leila said, "Further stigmatizing certain communities would be the greatest of mistakes to me -- you have seen just how well this strategy has worked so far. We are all French, from all backgrounds, worried about what's happening to our country. And we must fight together, regardless of our origins or our religious beliefs."

But there is one thing that Leila will refrain from telling her students in order to avoid breaking her profession's ethical code. "It's that the government and the media must accept their share of responsibility in this matter. For far too long, they've been playing a dangerous game when it comes to the stigmatization of communities. It's about who will create the biggest buzz by disseminating the most controversial and insulting remarks, which the media enthusiastically relays," said Leila. 

I plan on letting them express themselves freely, and then asking them to step back and evaluate. Carine, a middle school history teacher

Carine, a middle school history teacher, said she's teaching an early ninth-grade history class on Monday, and then she'll move on to several other classes. "If we decide to have the minute of silence at noon, I'll be with my sixth-graders," she said.

"I plan on letting them express themselves freely, and then asking them to step back and evaluate," she said. "In January, some of the students were scared, and I didn't know how to comfort them, because these blind massacres petrify me too. On the other hand, the minute of silence went by smoothly with my class, and the heated debates with my ninth-graders were productive."

Carine said that she would "also like to talk about the images, in particular those shown on news stations that play them on loop because they have no further information, and forget to clarify that they're just the same images."

It will be necessary to listen to them. Juliette, an elementary school teacher in the south of France

Juliette, an elementary school teacher in the south of France, has been a substitute teacher for fourth- and fifth-grade classes for the past week. "I'm confused and anxious about Monday. How's the minute of silence going to go?"

She said that she will need to consult with the principal on Monday morning. "Like everyone else, after Friday evening, I'm worried," she said. "I'm also anxious about the reactions of the students."

In January, Juliette decided not to speak to her kindergarten class about the attacks. "But this time around, they're older. They are bound to have heard about it. As a general rule, they often discuss current events," she said. 

She plans to welcome students at the school's entrance and wonders if parents will come up to her to discuss the attacks. "I won't speak to them about it on the spot. I'm going to try, for the most part, to let the talking come from the children and try to respond to what they say. It will be necessary to listen to them," Juliette said.

"Last week, we started a new history chapter, on the First Crusade. I might try to use what we learned in class to better shed light on current events."

This story originally appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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