As a middle school teacher, there are several days throughout the school year that you need a little extra strength to make it through…the days before any holiday break, Halloween, any full moon, Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, etc. This year for me, Valentine’s day came one day after grades were due for teachers. Particularly exhausted, I geared myself up for a day of wired kids full of sugar and middle school love. During my third period class, as my students were working quietly and diligently on a map of Asia, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of responsibility. I thought to myself, all 32 of these kids are mine. For these 90 minutes, they are my responsibility. I looked around at them and thought of something good about each one of them…and yes…even something good about the ones that give me the most trouble. Little did I know that not long after I had that brief moment of realization, teachers halfway across the country would be putting that responsibility into action to save the lives of their students.
My last class of the day was rough. The combination of sugar and emotions of either getting or not getting a valentine had all of us on edge, and the 20th incorrect answer of “HAWAII” shouted to answer a question put me over that edge. I ended class early with a new seating chart and silence from students in their new seats for the last 5 minutes of class (as opposed to their anxious line up by the door where we often chat about after school/weekend plans). I hated the way I left things with that class. A few of them apologized on their way out, but it did not matter. I let my kids leave class on a bad note and it did not sit well with me. My mind immediately went to places it shouldn’t. “What if something happens to them on their way home and this was their last memory of school? What if something happens to me and they think I was truly mad at them?” I sulked over to my desk and opened my drawer to take a look at the accumulating notifications on my phone. That was when I learned of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. There I was, upset that my students were going to think I didn’t care about them because they were talking while I was talking, while the students at Stoneman Douglas were learning just how much their teachers care for them as they tried to keep them safe during a shooting.
I did not watch much of the news coverage that night. I finally forced myself to read some articles and watch the news the next evening. The details were horrifying. Many people immediately blamed gun control laws for the massacre, others were quick to blame mental health issues, and there was a widespread urge to simply be kind to each other and love each other. I don’t think there is just one single thing to blame. I think it’s a combination of all of the above.
To the community of Parkland, Florida: there are no words to express the sorrow that I feel for you. The bravery of the teachers, students, and first responders is truly incredible. Please continue to use your voices and know that there are many who support you on the journey ahead of you.
To my students: I love you. Even on the days that you think I don’t, I do. And I’m sorry if you ever think anything else. My hope is that you will always feel safe and welcome in my classroom and at school in general; that the headlines, “another school shooting” are no longer commonplace in your world; and that your parents can leave you in my care for the day without a shadow of a doubt that you will be safe.
To those of you who say it’s a gun issue: I am with you. But it’s not the only issue.
To those of you who say it’s a mental health issue: I am with you. But it’s not the only issue.
To those of you who say “love each other”: I am with you. But, know this: teachers love their students, even when it’s hard to love them. Teachers love their students even when they make bad choices. And when their students make bad choices, the teacher wonders, “What could I have done differently to help them make the right choice? How could I have loved them better?” When a teacher loses a student, they wonder, “Could I have saved them? Why them and not me?” Let me say it again. TEACHERS LOVE THEIR STUDENTS. Teachers educate, love, tie shoes, put band-aids on boo boos, listen when no one else will, discipline, encourage, and the list goes on. But my goodness, we need some help. We can’t do it all on our own. I guarantee, there are many talented, passionate teachers saying right now, “I love teaching and I love my kids, but I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” We do our best to teach kids to love, but we can’t be the only ones to teach that lesson. While I do believe that love is a powerful force, maybe love, like teachers, needs a little help too. So….
To our lawmakers: PLEASE, HELP! It’s not too soon to talk about gun control. It’s not too soon to talk about mental health. In fact, it’s too late to talk about it. It’s too late to talk about how many school shootings there have been in 2018. Because one school shooting is too many. It’s time to stop talking and it’s time to do something. I don’t have the answer, but guess what? It’s not my job to come up with one! I can play my part by voicing my opinion, by calling my congressman, and by voting; but, I can’t make the decisions after that. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that the solution is NOT to just keep talking about it. By taking no action, it appears as though the people we elect to make choices for us, to help us “become a more perfect union”, don’t care enough about us at all. For the sake of the future of our country, for the young people who need to learn to love and trust that THEY MATTER — please — stop talking, start listening, and do something.