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Education in the Media, Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings, School Stories

The Monday After Newtown

I really hate coming to school the first day after a school incident somewhere else.  No one ever knows whether it will be a biggie to our kids or not, so we have to prepare and really think through how to support our kiddos.  I don’t mind that,  in fact, I want to be prepared and appreciate all that folks offer to help me get better at supporting kids–it’s more the worry that is the hassle for me.

So on Mondays I have two of our local middle school helpers in my room….and sometimes they show and sometimes not (when they are overwhelmed with homework, for example.) Today they both were here, and the 6th grader brought up the shootings, asking had we heard about them.  The eighth grader responded with yeah, she had heard about it, but it apparently wasn’t a big deal to her at this point, days later. I asked the younger one if she had seen it on the news, and we talked about how it had been all that was on  pretty much all weekend. Both helpers, though, seemed okay and didn’t seem to want to dwell upon it, but I did find it interesting they brought it up. Then the 6th grader said there had been a school dance Friday night.

Boy, did I feel for THOSE chaperones. The kid I was talking to said that was pretty much all anyone talked about at the dance…here I was worrying about kids’ feelings 3 days later and those teachers had had to deal with it fresh. Wow!

I certainly hope I never have to live through anything like that–but if I do, I hope I do it with half the bravery and grace of the Sandy Hook faculty and staff.  They were quite simply, amazing.

Then I check my email and find one from a friend…a quickie about what people prayed for during our daily minute of silence–that we could keep kids safe, that it never happens to us and our kids–or kids anywhere–and that broken locks get fixed.

I have to say that the story of the teacher who hid her kids in her cabinets and closets and faced the gunman disturbed me the most. It really made me think about where I’d hide any kids with me. Gives new meaning to the term learning space and thinking about how to arrange a classroom.

But, what would I pray for?  What HAVE I prayed for? That we find kids who are lonely and reach out to them.  That we all build relationships with kids-and parents–so that no one ever feels the need to go on the rampage. The relationships those Sandy Hook teachers had with their students will forever be a model for us all. I’ve prayed that teachers understand that school isn’t about power and control, but caring and building, and helping everyone be their best intellectually, socially and psychologically. We all have to care and build skills and strengths and self worth like those teachers have. I’ve prayed that principals and coaches and anyone above a teacher listens carefully when we express concern about a child being a loner or angry or being obsessed with firearms or wanting to hurt another being–or when we see someone who always writes about war and armies and killing…. The mental health aspect is crucial to our conversations–all of us anywhere. (See Sandy Hook Shooting: Why Did Lanza Target a School? for some research on school shooters.)

I’ve hated the discussion centering on guns.  It’s not the tool, it how the tool is used. It’s just like we all say about technology–when a kid misuses it, we don’t strip it from them, we center on teaching correct ways of using it and helping them understand the whys and wherefores of their behavior being wrong. I didn’t grow up in a gun household, but my children did. My grandson’s passion right now is hunting, and he is more knowledgeable than his dad will ever be about tracking, the woods around their house, changes in their land and seasonal behaviors of some of the animals around them. He knows more about guns than I ever will–or ever want to know. I like what he is learning, and I have faith that he will never be on a rampage, because of the person he is and is becoming.

Instead of making this tragedy an issue about gun control, why can we not make it around mental issues, relationships and centering on what’s right, with people making good choices for themselves? Why can we not look at this as a wake up call to examine our own behavior and see who we leave out–purposefully or inadvertently? Why can we not be present in the moment listening, instead of using this situation to further a personal (or organized corporate) agenda?

Right now, I need to have time to grieve, to think of all that could have happened–and be thankful most of it did not. While what happened was absolutely terrible, we are all thankful it was no worse. I need to have time to hug my family, my students, my colleagues and say thanks for my well-being–and theirs. I need time to be happy with my kids, to enjoy the upcoming time off,  and not be inundated with petitions to sign, politics to worry about and admonitions to hear. I need to be able to talk with and listen to my students–to see what they are thinking and feeling to help guide them through what can only be for them a confusing, stressful time. I need normalcy and laughter. This last week before winter break does not need to be filled with darkness and sadness, but it absolutely should be filled with reflection and thoughtful rumination on what we can do to reach and teach every single child who walks through our doors–to make them feel loved  and valued and honored for the good they have to offer. I want every kid to feel the confidence to say “I know karate.  I can lead.”  (But I DON’T want them to ever have to do so!)

I’d rather spend my energy processing and revisiting how to get better and how to reach more and how to connect in deeper ways that make a difference in someone’s life.

After all, that’s why I became a teacher–to make a difference.

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


6 thoughts on “The Monday After Newtown

  1. I agree with your premise about the tools. However, I also think there comes a point when a tool is insane to have, when the sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible. I want the conversation to center around relationships, mental health and community. But I also want the reminder (and the conversation) revolving around where we set the limit on citizens and weaponry.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | December 17, 2012, 9:49 pm
    • John,
      I didn’t write this to become a “gun control or not” post….I want us to talk openly and honestly about those we leave out–about the needs we see for helping some kids–about the mental health issues we hardly ever address in schools. Conversations need to center around relationships, mental health and community, as you said. But is that all we need to talk about? Of course not. Guns will–and have to–be part of the discussion about safety….I just don’t want that to overshadow our conversations about kids and their needs.

      I wish we could be all inclusive and not have kids who feel left out or ostracized. I feel strongly that part of our job is to watch for those kids and try to include them as much as possible…and try to change that feeling.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I so respect what you have to say.

      Posted by Paula White | December 17, 2012, 10:05 pm
  2. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts here, Paula. My kids barely brought it up today…. Very much old news. I definitely see what you’re saying about chaperones dealing with it “fresh.”

    It also occurs how learning spaces need to include safety in their design as well! My room locks and has a VERY secure door, for which I was thankful today, every minute I was in it. I wonder if my kids feel that safety, as well?

    Posted by Jon B | December 17, 2012, 10:03 pm
    • I think kids often take their cues from us, even subliminally..and your relief had to have calmed them (as well as, or possibly even more than, the time from the event.)

      Our doors lock from the outside….my doors (I have 2) stay locked at all times, so I can just slam them shut if needed.

      Yeah, I can’t imagine the feeling that permeated that dance….

      Posted by Paula White | December 17, 2012, 10:11 pm
  3. I wish for you time to process, time to grieve with our collective teacher-hood and nation, and, most of all, time to continue to be the loving, caring, challenging teacher that you are. In solidarity –lorimack

    Posted by Lori | December 17, 2012, 11:46 pm


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