When natural disasters strike, schools in impacted areas face many challenges in getting back to normal, from replacing supplies to comforting students. But every time the unexpected arrives, teachers prove themselves up to the task by making sure their students have a place to call home in the middle of chaos. We’ve visited damaged schools after Hurricane Harvey, the 2016 flooding in Louisiana, tornadoes in Joplin, MO and Moore, OK, and Hurricane Sandy. At every school, teachers shared with us lessons they’d learned during the recovery. Every disaster is different, but these five lessons stuck out as essential for teachers if they ever find themselves dealing with this kind of unfathomable situation.
1. There are people out there who want to help
Although no disaster is the same, one thing remains constant: the outpouring of support from across the country for impacted teachers. However, these generous people don’t always know what teachers need. We’ve heard stories from school districts that end up with a warehouse full of backpacks donated by well-meaning people, when what they really need is to replace the class library, or technology. For Ms. Harwell in Houston, it was notebooks, which were important, but that wasn’t all they needed: “It was the other stuff that people forget about that we use too.”That’s where creating a project on DonorsChoose comes in — teachers can tell our community exactly what’s needed most, and we’ll help deliver it.
“I would tell them about DonorsChoose I would tell them that there's people out there to help you. I will say there's people out there to help you and your students.” – Ms. Sam
When a teacher creates a DonorsChoose project, we can get supplies to an impacted area in a matter of days.
Protip: Make sure to specifically mention the disaster in your essay, so people can quickly find your project to give.
2. Recovery looks different for everyone
Depending on the kind of disaster and the level of damage, there are a few different situations teachers might find themselves in. Here are three of the most common:
- Teachers return to their classrooms after a thorough cleaning, but all materials are lost and sometimes walls, shelves and doors are missing for weeks during repairs.
- Teachers and students relocate to another school, sometimes having schooldays in alternating shifts with the host school.
- Schools relocate to another facility like a church or college, which doesn’t offer the traditional school necessities.
Each of these three scenarios poses a unique set of challenges, and could change what kind of supplies will be most important. For example, if you are moving to a new building, the district might be able to provide furniture immediately, but you’ll have no pens, paper, or technology. If you are sharing with a nearby school, quickly adding items to help students adapt to the cramped quarters will be key.
3. Students will need a place that feels like home
Natural disasters impact entire communities, and that means many students will be uprooted from their homes and dealing with emotional trauma. Having a stable place at school for kids to call “home” is more important than ever, and often the burden falls on teachers to serve as counselors. For Ms. Alejandro-Uvalle, what her kids needed most was to “feel secure” and to “feel like they were home even though they weren't.” Ms. Wells found that “they have the stability in the school that they might not have at home and that's really important.” Creating a safe, welcoming environment can manifest in different ways. For some teachers, it could mean using art or personal narrative to help kids process the trauma. For others, it’s making the classroom feel as familiar as possible.
“What is most important to have in your classroom that you feel can make the biggest impact for the kids? Maybe it's having a good book… or something that will brighten up your classroom... be creative!” – Mrs. Wells
4. Think about things you’ll be able to use now, and down the line
After a disaster, many teachers will find themselves in a temporary classroom, whether that’s in a new school or a portable building. Eventually things will return to normal, and that will mean another move. So teachers recommend requesting supplies you can easily transport. Many teachers will request tablets after a disaster, to quickly give their students access to technology in a convenient and easily movable form. Ms. Harwell shared why she chose to request tablets instead of traditional computers:
“It was something that's mobile so you can carry it around. I'm sure there was other things that people wanted but they were like "Okay, I'm going to have to pack this back up, so what can I easily pack up?"
Protip: Keep each project small (under $600), so it is funded and shipped as quickly as possible.
5. Take care of yourself
As a teacher, you’re already accustomed to thinking of others first, and that instinct will be even stronger in a crisis situation. But make sure to take care of yourself, too. Every teacher we meet talks about recovering from a natural disaster as one of the biggest challenges of their teaching career, but it was a challenge they did overcome. We hope no one reading this ever has to deal with this kind of challenge, but if you do, we want to make sure you have a network to turn to for support.
“Stay strong. It really will be okay. Don't give up, don't give up. Find resources, there's people out there that will help you.” – Ms. Smith
Need materials for your students after a disaster? Get started with a project on DonorsChoose.