Main piece of advice to teachers in Viljandi after losing their colleague shot dead this Monday is do talk about it. Talk to the point, and speculate not.
So here we go, up the stairs in Tuesday morning with Paalalinna School headmaster Aavo Palo and Viljandi mayor Ando Kiviberg, to 3rd floor. We have chairs to set: at 7.30 am, there’ll be a meeting where the headmaster and psychologists will help class teachers and other staff with advice how to relate to kids in the first lesson of the day.
The atmosphere is sombre, depressed. At the end of the meeting, class teacher of Vahur the shooter breaks down and is in need of comfort. «So we need to keep going on now, but how we do will depend on how the kids are doing,» Mr Palo tells the teachers.
Thereafter, he tells them this: «We will have the class hours now, and I think we all need to be able to talk. Maybe the kids aren’t ready to, at the start, but it is necessary that they can do it. We need to instil in them the knowing that there actually is no continued danger and we are able to go on.»
Mr Palo warns them the kids’ reaction may not be adequate at the moment and some of them may behave weird. «We need to understand they may be mentally out of balance,» he says. «No need to condemn them for what they may think or feel. They need time. Sure, it’s very hard for us as well – some knew Ene (the perished teacher Ene Sarap – edit) more, some less, some for ten long years. Often, colleagues turned friends and that’s what makes it the more difficult.»
Now, says Mr Palo, they ought to come to terms about how long the school should be in mourning. «For how long will we be talking about it, when shall we cease?» he asks. «We cannot stay in this mourning for too long, there’ll me a time that we go on.»
Mr Palo advises to pay special attention to pupils in Ene Sarap’s own class, and to those she taught German. «There, some students may be badly shaken. As you notice something, we’ll try and help,» promises Mr Palo.
Classroom No 204
A teacher says Ms Sarap’s students will be asking what about the lessons. «This week, their German classes will be in the library hall, we will not be going to that classroom No 204,» says a worker. Mr Palo adds that for a while, at least till the end of the year, classroom No 204 will remain closed. «We do have other places and we can have the lessons elsewhere, let that room be for a while,» says the headmaster.
For Mr Palo, it would be worst to enter overly emotional and deep conversations with the kids. «Let’s try to keep the emotions within reasonable boundaries,» explains Mr Palo. «At times, the kids do ask these crafty questions, but think like this: the less emotions, there sooner we will have peace again.»
Says the first psychologist: «I had this information telephone the whole night and I have to admit I only answered one call, and that was from education ministry,» she says. «In Estonia, kids and parents are the kind who are not too prone to call. Let me assure you: we are really there and we will do our best to support you. I’m a graduate of this school myself – feel free to call and to speak.»
The other psychologist: «This morning we sent all schools in the county guidelines how to behave. This must be spoken about. We can’t afford not to react, if for the very reason that he teachers, the children and the parents are talking anyhow. Important not to go along with all kinds of speculations about what went on in that young person’s head. Just talk the known facts – when and what happened.»
According to the psychologist, it’s most important that the grown-ups try and be calm. «Kids may react out of place, on the face of it – some may laugh,» said the lady. «Quite possible in such a situation, so don’t react painfully. The smaller kids may have all kinds of fears. Please do pay attention to that.»
Important thus to keep up the daily routine, the usual school life. «This will provide for a feeling of security, that the school is a safe place, the lessons continue and everything works,» adds the psychologist. «We definitely must not forget about the parents – they need to be notified about what is done at school, what is talked about, what is being done. The school might let the parents know it stands ready to support them, and that that may address a specialist at Viljandi Rajaleidja [pathfinder – edit] Centre. The counselling phone number is at school website, and has also been sent to the students.»
The psychologist adds reactions rather delayed may occur. «Some kids and grown-ups do not react immediately, the reaction may follow in two weeks or two months, even later with some,» she says. «So be ready for that. Pay attention to students being absent and getting sick.»
Now, the psychologist comes to today’s first lesson: «Be sure to talk about what happened yesterday, in the initial lesson,» she says. «It’s only to be during the first lesson, not in those that follow. If afterwards some children want to talk about it, tell them you will refer it to class teacher and mostly the support specialist.»
Then, says the psychologist, the kids need to be told exactly what took place. «And neutrally, as neutrally as possible.»
Important also to let the kids know how they can notice classmates having a hard time. «If you see somebody is having a hard time, tell the class teacher, tell someone you trust,» adds the psychologist.
«No-one may be alone with their worries. As the kid what you could do if somebody is having trouble – what you can do to alleviate the situation.» pay attention to altered behaviour, the teachers are told.
Get the effect
According to the psychologist, dramatic cases may have an effect on the memory and the ability to concentrate. «The kids may lose motivation, develop fears for the future and changes. Depression affects ability to think, it slows down. There’ll be attention and concentration disorders, thoughts wander off, it is hard to focus. Sleep disorders may also occur.»
To wind up, the psychologist tells about grief, about mourning. «For kids, grief differs from that in grown-ups. Often, it is hidden. Understanding death is different with children, also depending on age.» Meanwhile, no kid is too small to feel grief. «The kids often don’t find words and they cannot describe the whirlwind of related emotions. Often, children in mourning will find themselves alone as the adults are all about themselves and their own emotions, and the kids dare not and know not how to ask.»
A meeting is agreed with a crisis adviser. There will be an extraordinary parents’ meeting. During the day, a police chaplain will be at the schoolhouse – available to all.