One Teacher’s Thoughts on School Shootings

We live in the era of urgent news updates sharing information about the most recent school shooting.  Sadly, we have largely become numb to these frequent news stories and the subsequent “our thoughts and prayers are with your school” sentiment from our legislators.  Is there anyone else out there who shares my sentiment — that thoughts and prayers for these students, staff and families are not enough?  When are we going to enforce our gun laws and keep our children safe?  When are we going to say “Enough is enough!” regarding our teachers being human shields for our children?  When will we work to find a real solution to students bringing guns to school?  

I’m writing about this because, though school shootings are horrific, most people feel significant distance from these events.  We all have a “not in my neighborhood” mentality.  We all want to feel that the community we’ve chosen is safe.  However, on Friday, March 4, 2022, Olathe East had a school shooting.  Olathe East — the school where my children attended.  The school that houses students and staff who I care about.  A school that’s practically in my backyard.  Wait, what?  This wasn’t supposed to happen in a suburban Kansas school!

Luckily, no one was killed in this shooting.  The shooter was shot and later hospitalized.  The assistant principal and SRO were both shot, but they were released from the hospital the day of the incident.  Still, a school of nearly 2,000 students is left feeling traumatized and afraid. Teachers, like students, are anxious.  Are there other kids in the building who regularly bring guns to school?  Is there a way to make this building feel safe again?

As a teacher, I have lived through the pre-Columbine era, where a school shooting was both shocking and occasional.  But since Columbine, school shootings have become a thing.  We now have active shooter drills in schools to prepare for this event.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am glad we prepare.  In the case of the Olathe shooting, it appears to me that the SRO followed protocol and probably saved many lives.  The school was on lockdown, and no students were injured.  But if you’ve ever been in a dark room with frightened first graders, hunkering down with the door locked and only a dim flashlight for light, you might reconsider your stance on what to do about school shootings.  Gun violence at school should not be a thing, and small children should not have to ask their teachers whether an active shooter exercise is a drill or real.

I don’t have the answers, folks.  I wish I did.  But I do believe that though there are many responsible gun owners, we are a country that values our 2nd Amendment rights more than we value human lives.  We allow underpaid teachers to go into buildings knowing that today might be the day that they have to block a child from a bullet or lockdown their classroom.  And instead of helping us, many of our legislators offer this sort of statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”  Well, that’s not enough.  What about doing something?  What about action and policy change?  What about providing adequate funding to schools that will allow protections for our children?  What about education and/or counseling for staff and students so they don’t feel anxious about coming to school?  What about mental health initiatives to help students who attain guns?  What about putting our heads together as a country and a community to make school a safe and harmonious place for our children?  Please, no more empty words “addressing” this problem.  

Let me end with this.  I am prepared to protect a student from a gunman by taking a bullet.  I am prepared to die so a child won’t.  But folks, this isn’t actually my job.  My job is to educate, support, mentor and encourage.  We need to ask ourselves as a nation, is this the America we want — a nation where our children are afraid of being at school?  We owe it to our children (and to our teachers) to do better than this.  

“Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to 

breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation.”  

Brene Brown

Here are two organizations that work to end gun violence in schools (as well as in homes and communities) if you’re interested in getting involved.

https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/

http://protectourschools.com/ 


And here is the link to an article about the Olathe East shooting. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/04/us/olathe-east-high-school-kansas-shooting/index.html

Fork the Nonbelievers:  Some 1st Quarter Reflections from an Already Tired Teacher

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To my Fellow Educators, 

I am coming off of a tough week at work.  I am tired and struggling, as many of you are.  As the end of our first quarter approaches, I am realizing that the second full year of teaching during a pandemic will be no easier on us as educators.  Last year we were so glad to be back in person with our students that we happily pushed through a lot of hard things.  But the hard things seem to keep piling up on us.  I don’t care if you’re a homeroom teacher, a specialist like myself, a paraprofessional or a custodian, your job right now is tough — harder than in any “normal” teaching year.  Covid protocol has changed many aspects of our jobs and has added additional challenges.  

On top of the new challenges, Covid has alienated us as teachers and co-workers.  We don’t see each other at lunch or after school, thus we don’t get to share our stories and struggles. Because we don’t communicate like in the past, we forget to empathize with one another.  We forget that each role within a school may look a bit different, but each role has its unique benefits and challenges.  I feel strongly that by working together and supporting each other, we can create a positive learning environment for ourselves and our students.  You see, quite often we teachers learn as much as our students throughout the year.

While dealing with my own personal struggles, I’ve been thinking about the kind of teacher/person I want to be.  I’m not perfect.  For instance, just today I snapped at a class over something that wasn’t their fault, and I’ve been beating myself up about it all afternoon.  Still, I want to be a teacher who goes to work with my head held high, a teacher who tries a little harder next time, a teacher who my students and co-workers respect because I try to maintain my authenticity and my integrity.  I’ll tell you all the truth — teaching is not easy right now.  And yet, teaching is literally all I’ve ever wanted to do.  I knew back in 4th grade, sitting in Mrs. Cruit’s classroom, that I wanted to be a teacher. I am doing EXACTLY what I’d hoped to be doing when I was a kid.  I don’t want to take this for granted.  

So here’s my plan.  Instead of sitting around and listing for you all of the hard things about my job and yours, I’m going to tell you my WHY — my beliefs about teaching.  Then I’m going to print this out and post it in my office.  I’m going to look at my list every day, and I’m going to bust my ass trying to be the kind of teacher that I hoped I could be.  I’m going to take a piece of advice from my father:  Fork the nonbelievers.  (Note:  Language slightly altered to be less offensive.  I am a teacher, after all!)  I think this is what my Dad means by this phrase.  Don’t worry about other people — what they’re doing or what they think of you.  Keep on doing your best and you’ll be all right.  That is what I intend to do.

So here are my beliefs.  I encourage you to sit down and write out yours as well.  I think that in remembering why we became teachers in the first place, we can re-motivate and re-inspire ourselves.

What I Believe about Teaching

2021-2022

  • I believe that my job as a  teacher is important.    What I do has the potential to positively impact lives both in the present and in the future.  
  • I believe in teamwork — teamwork in the classroom, within my building, and within my field.  I want to be the kind of co-worker that people enjoy collaborating with because they know I will work for what’s best for our students and for our school.  I believe in connecting with other teachers who do what I do to share ideas and garner encouragement.  
  • I believe that a strong public education system levels the playing field for all children.  And it’s my job, in part, to help students see the importance of education now and in the future.
  • I believe that I can be a bright light in a child’s educational experience.  I strive to be a person who both shares the importance of lifelong learning and who connects deeply with her students.  
  • I believe in building relationships in my classroom.  Students won’t care about learning from me until they understand that I care about their well-being.  (Thank you Sharon B. for teaching me this!)  I also believe in building positive relationships with my co-workers and families.  Relationships are key in my profession.  
  • I believe that my content matters, but I also believe that my character matters.  How I treat my students every day makes a difference.  I want to be a kind, fair, fun and enthusiastic teacher.  On days when I fail in this department, I want to pick myself up and try again.  
  • I believe that all kids have something in them to be valued.  We all have had tough kids.  But even the toughest kid has something that can be appreciated and fostered.  
  • I believe that when there’s a problem in the classroom, there is also a solution if you work hard to find it.  I believe in talking to other teachers or my principal to find a remedy to a challenging situation.  I don’t want to give up on a class or on a kid.
  • I believe that I have the most interesting, creative, challenging, heart-breaking AND rewarding job.  I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do or be.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

Malala Yousafzai