I woke up Monday morning with the modest goal of simply making through another full week of school. The Writers' Conference was Wednesday and I was looking forward to that, and not looking forward to the several meetings scheduled for the week.
Obviously Monday didn't go as planned for anyone.
There is little I can say about Virginia Tech that hasn't been said, and the overwhelming amount of news, information, emotion, and pain would take a better writer than me to convey. As usual, I am left to see things from my perspective not as a human being, a U.S. citizen, a woman, but as a teacher.
This week at school was an atypical week from the moment the news reports began to surface until about 50 minutes after the final bell rang on Friday. I am unable to go into specifics for a variety of reasons ranging from the recent publicity my blog has received at the student level to my increasing desire to keep school violence threats private especially as they apply to me personally.
That being said, the following is my opinion, generalized and not directed at any specific school, group of students, or group of teachers. It is my writing and my thoughts.
Two events converged this week to make high schools a sad place to be. The 4/20 "holiday" always places high schools on alert for various events, and this combined with the aftermath of yet another attack on a school put students and teachers in a sensitive mindset. The kids were confused, unable to wrap their minds around a level of violence nearly unheard of outside of the movies they pay $10 to see, the video games they look forward to playing when they complete their obligations to school, job and family. Teachers rode a line of balanced information: too much leads to fear and possible parent calls, too little seems to undermine the horror of what happened. This was not an event that could be "brushed under the carpet."
Students watch their teachers and a deviation in the routine at any time this week was cause for alarm. A student makes a joke and suddenly he is in the office facing suspension. Without warning, even the teachers who laugh along with the students aren't laughing. Announcements in the middle of the hour for all staff to check their email raise the hairs on the back of everyone's necks. "What's going on?" the students ask, and the teachers give cryptic information in response. The kids don't press because, really, it's easier to pretend that life is normal. They are in a safe place.
Administration reminds teachers adn teachers remind students that it is not only their responsibility to learn their grammar, their calculus, and their presidents, but they are also to be the "eyes and ears" for any threat of violence. They are to assess the mental stability of their peers and report any questionable content to an authority. This is not tattling, we tell them; their lives may depend on it.
In an environment where 90% of the population does not think before they speak because they don't quite know how to filter themselves yet, most of what is said "turns out to be nothing." But when the minority, the one school shooter, suddenly turns into a questionable majority, the motto of "better safe than sorry" becomes a daily mantra for everyone. Yet we tell the students that everything is fine, be normal, you are safe. We have teams in place, procedures to follow. This is why we practice those lockdown drills. It's not just to scare you.
I've heard a lot this week: "What is the solution?" I hear this from adults as well as kids. We are Americans, Powerful, and when we are reminded of our powerlessness, it affronts our sensibilities no matter what our age. And what is the solution? Gun control? Education? Bulletproof vest? Teachers carrying weapons like police? I don't know. I just don't know.
And no one knows, which is the problem. We have to balance our constitution, our unique system of human and citizen rights with an ongoing threat, and there are no answers. We mourn the dead, the victims, and we concentrate on keeping things "normal" in the face of an everchanging definition of normalcy.
Ultimately I put my faith in our students, in teachers, in the system, because I have to. Though once in awhile it fails, someone gets through, on a daily basis we succeed. We live, we thrive, we finish the day smarter and more grown up than we were that morning. We cannot give power to the exception, we must remember that we, the healthy, are the majority and though we cannot let our guards down, we also cannot live in a constant state of fear.