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Virginia Tech copes with returning to class

Professors grapple with what to teach as the campus resumes classes Monday. Topics could include the nature of grief and finding meaning in last Monday's tragedy.

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Virginia Tech history professor Woody Farrar is usually able to lecture for hours, but this time he worried about what he would say – if he could even get the words out – when his students returned to his class Monday, a week after the worst shooting in US history took place on campus.

"On one hand, I feel assaulted, like someone came into my house and trashed it," says Mr. Farrar, who specializes in sports and military history. "On the other hand, this was like a tornado come down out of the sky, unpredictable and random."

He's one of hundreds of teachers struggling to come up with words to greet returning students whose lives were turned upside down when a troubled English major and fellow classmate started shooting in the West Ambler Johnston dorm last Monday, killing two students. Cho Seung-Hui then fired more than 100 shots in Norris Hall, killing five teachers and 26 more students, including himself.

"We're all kind of visualizing: What am I going to do when I walk into class?" says Carol Burger, a women's studies professor on campus. "We're trying to be ready for anything and follow the students' lead." In the past, schools have shut down for various lengths of time after a campus tragedy occurred. Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, closed for six weeks after four antiwar protester students were killed by National Guard troops in 1970. Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., didn't reopen for two weeks after two students killed 15 people including themselves in 1999.

But a yearning for normalcy, as well as an urgency to reconnect with students before the semester ends on May 3, prompted the Virginia Tech administration to resume classes only a week after the shootings.

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