Friday, October 06, 2006

How do you handle it?

Myfanwy asked me in the comments section of her blog how teachers deal with the aftermath of a school shooting, with student fears and our own fears. I can only answer for myself, but I will answer, after a brief departure to address something that many people have asked me in the last two days.

With the recent suggestion by Wisconsin Rep. Frank Lasee that teachers, administrators, and principals should carry concealed weapons in school because that’s what they do in Israel and Thailand, part of me wants to shake my head in utter bewilderment at what our nation is coming to.

The other part of me, with my mind’s eye, puts me in the middle of a classroom, in a standoff with a student, wondering if I would draw my gun first, and, if so, if I would be able to use it. Would a student wrestle it away from me at some point and use it against me or another student? Would I forget to put the safety on and shoot my own foot?

I did not come from a gun family. We don’t hunt, we never had guns in our home. The only gun I’ve ever held has been in a video game. I’m afraid of guns, which is why I went into a profession that involved teaching high school students, where I would show them how to read and how to appreciate literature and writing, rather than into the military or into the police force.

When there are multiple school shootings, I think the feeling is best described as akin to the weeks following 9/11 for people outside of the NYC area. There’s a heightened awareness of mortality and of powerlessness, combined with the dim glimmers of hope that we all held on to: It didn’t happen here, maybe it won’t ever happen here.

There’s danger in that feeling, though, because it could, and it will. No one ever thinks that their school will be “that school,” but a lot of them have been. Too many have been. And we do our best, as teachers and as administrators, to prepare for a lockdown, prepare for a terror attack, but as we all know, hypothetical preparation is only so useful in the actual event.

Additionally, now we have a new fear on our hands. The manta used to be “Keep your eyes and ears open. Listen to the students.” But when a student isn’t the threat, when the threat is some random psychopath, or someone who has a 20 year old nightmare in his head that has nothing to do with school or teachers or particular students, what is our defense against that? Metal detectors? Cameras? Scanning bar codes? All of this costs money that schools don’t have, of course, but schools are supposed to be safe places. They aren’t supposed to be jails, or detention centers, or locked down buildings. We work hard to establish community among and with our students; God forbid that community is one of fear.

So, how we deal with it is how we must deal with it. We teach. We teach about homophobia in sociology, we teach history in social studies, we teach about tragic heroes and mistakes of the past in English. We teach tolerance and good sportsmanship, we teach chemical health, family planning, and human sexuality. We teach by being models. By showing students that conflicts should be talked through, not handled with fists or with concealed weapons. We teach good decision making. We teach process. We teach community, good communication and respect for self and property. We try to prepare our students for the world outside, but not so much that they won’t have delightful surprises, and some struggles, when they enter it. We teach them ways to find what’s interesting to them, so that they can develop their own passions independent of their parents, their friends, and us.

We do the job the best we can for the people who refuse to do it. Sometimes we miss one or two. Kids fall through the cracks and they slip away from us. Sometimes they’re damaged beyond repair by the time they come to us in 9th grade. But we still try. And we are strong, because terrorism is the instillation of fear into a community, and it is the goal of every school shooter, be he student or stranger, to instill fear. And just like America did after 9/11, when something like this happens, we must circle in on ourselves, reevaluate our procedures, stress our love for our community, and soldier on.


Myfanwy Collins said...

Beautifully put, Kelly! Thank you. xo

Dave Clapper said...

Thanks for this, Kelly. It makes me appreciate teachers that much more (and I already appreciate them a lot).