Out of the Zoo: What will I teach on days like these?

Annie Thorn is senior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects, as a future teacher, on January 6, 2021—JF

January 6th, 2021. I had just arrived home from a busy day of substitute teaching in a 6th grade English class. My skin was dry and flaky from layers of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, my feet sore from standing all day in my black heeled boots (I have yet to purchase sensible teacher shoes). Breathing a sigh of relief, I sat in the warmth of my parked Chevy Avalanche for a few minutes before braving the Michigan cold that waited for me outside. I pulled out my phone and checked Instagram, scrolling through posts and double tapping the ones I liked. After swiping through a few stories at the top of the screen, a startling image greeted me. It depicted an angry mob, rushing toward the Capitol in Washington D.C. The headline above the photo indicated that the People’s House had been breached.

Confusion clouded my brain and I wondered if the article was real. Would someone really try to break into the U.S. Capitol? No, it can’t be true, I thought. I turned my phone off and made the trek inside, greeted by my family’s energetic puppy who was excited to be liberated from her crate. As I played tug-of-war with her in the living room, I almost forgot about what I saw on Instagram. For a moment, the photo’s scary scene was nothing more than a fading memory, an unpleasant dream. 

My mom arrived home a few minutes later and we turned on the news. “Did you see what’s happening in D.C.?” she asked. Sure enough, it was all real. What I saw on Instagram wasn’t a hypothetical scenario or a figment of my imagination. An angry mob of protestors had broken into the Senate Chamber, attempting to “stop the steal.” As reporters interviewed legislators, showed photos and read concerned messages from foreign leaders, I felt like I was watching a dystopian novel unfold in real life. I sat in front of the T.V. all night, trying to comprehend what was happening. Tumultuous thoughts hummed ever-louder in my brain like an angered beehive. 

While I love being at home with my family, that night I found myself wishing I was back at school. I wanted my professors and mentors to explain how and why something like this could happen. The professors at Messiah have a way of making their students feel safe and loved, even when the world around us is full of chaos. I wanted to see my history major friends so we could make sense of it all together. My friends–especially my friends who love history–help me make sense of hard questions, even the ones that don’t necessarily have answers.

Three weeks have passed since the insurrection at the Capitol. I’ve moved back to Messiah University for my final semester of classes before I complete my student teaching. I am taking a lot of education classes this spring. It’s crazy to think that less than a year from now I won’t be the student anymore. I’ll be the teacher. When another day like January 6 arrives, my students will come to me with questions–questions I may not be able to answer. 

Every generation, it seems, is defined by a series of events. By the days that we remember clearly–even weeks, months, or years after the fact. Some days we are proud to be Americans, and other days we hang our heads in shame. There will always be days filled with death, tragedy, and scandal. There will be mornings when my students will come to class with questions. What will I teach on days like these? Whatever I teach, I know I will not do it perfectly. There will be lots of trial and error. I know I won’t have all the answers, and the ones I do give I will have to craft carefully. But on days like these I will do my best to teach mourning. I will teach respect. I will teach love. And I will teach action.