Penmanship and Marksmanship

Ever since 20 kids and six of their caretakers were mercilessly gunned down in Newtown, every single teacher I know has had one thing on his or her mind: safety.

Schools are supposed to be safe places where kids can forget about the bad things that might happen, that do happen.

No one knows better than teachers of the daily responsibility to keep their kids from harm, all kinds of harm.

             In addition to preventing violent madmen from threatening our kids, we do our damnedest to shield them from the fear and pain of poverty and neglect.   We see lonely kids and scared kids  and struggling kids every day, and every day, even before they take out a pen or open a book, we have to find ways to keep all our kids feeling safe and secure.

Some people are saying that an initiative to arm teachers will make schools safer and more secure.  I am trying to keep an open mind, but guns make me nervous; bad things happen when the wrong people have access to guns. And guns in schools don’t really make me feel any safer or more secure.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never handled or fired a gun of any type.  I have, however, been held up by rifle toting bad guys who robbed the supermarket I worked in while I was a college student.  Maybe that’s why I have negative feelings about guns.

But I digress…

In Ohio, 24 teachers are now being trained in a test program involving firearms. In Arizona, there is a move to allow one teacher in every school to be armed.  A Texas politician, Louie Gohmert, asserted that had the Sandy Hook principal been armed, she could have “taken his head off before he could have killed those precious kids.”  In Utah, teachers have been allowed to carry concealed weapons in schools for the past 12 years, without any reported irresponsible behavior.

Advocates argue that this is not about teachers holstering sidearms.  It is about doing all that can be done to keep the kids safe. And this is a point that we all can agree on. But, will kids be safer when their teachers complete the six hours of training offered for 2,000 Utah educators?  Six hours? My colleagues and I have spent more time in professional development lectures to become proficient in differentiation.

Though I have tried to see this from both sides, I still have lots of questions.

The idea that armed personnel would deter would-be killers assumes a degree of rational thought.   Clearly, there was nothing sane about the attack on Sandy Hook.  Do we expect a normal response from people so beyond normal thought?

Most schools have multiple entrances and Sandy Hook proved that even locked doors don’t ensure an intruder won’t get in. Do we have armed guards at every point of entry?

Background checks haven’t been as successful as we might have hoped in preventing incompetent and unscrupulous people from getting jobs in schools.  Can we be certain that background checks would be more effective when determining who has the gun in a school?

If arming teachers makes schools safer, then do we also arm day care providers to make those facilities safer and more secure?

How do we prevent kids from being caught in the cross fire?  How would it feel to lose a child to friendly fire?

I understand the need to do something. Taking some sort of action makes us feel that we have power to defeat evil.  Newtown is a national tragedy that should never have happened.  I just don’t know if more guns is necessarily an appropriate response.

  For now, I will do what I can. I will continue to do my best to make kids feel safe and secure by creating a classroom where they can take academic and social risks without fear and where kindness is the golden rule.  For now, I will nurture my kids and do what I can to help them learn to nurture others.

After Newtown: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3….

Then it was Monday and so, as usual, we came back to school after the weekend. I just didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was.

Part of me needed to go back to school, to be among colleagues who surely would know what to do if something as terrifying as what happened at Sandy Hook were to unfold in our building.

I needed to get back to business as usual. I had papers to return and my 7th graders were scheduled to sit for an in class essay.

As usual, I left before it was light out and pulled into my unofficial spot in Lot # 1.  And as usual, only one other car–a Camry belonging to my humanities counterpart– was parked at our end of the lot. So far, so good.

That’s when, for a split second, I hesitated before opening my car door. I didn’t expect that.

Crazy, I told myself.  This has been business as usual for the past ten years.  This is our school on a pastoral campus where deer and wild turkeys are the biggest distractions.  Our grounds are the envy of my teacher friends: a pool, manicured shrubbery, several playgrounds. Our building is airy and open.

Crazy to be scared.  Then again, maybe not.

With fresh eyes, I scanned the wooded area surrounding the building.  I lost count trying to enumerate the doors that bring people into the building. I thought about the wall I share with the Spanish classes and remembered the door joining the two classrooms that has never, in ten years, been locked.

Then I thought about those 20 first graders and their teachers.

Nothing in school will ever be the same. Not yesterday.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Not ever.

There is apprehension in our building and yes, there is also fear. We are fumbling with keys and, even though it is inconvenient, we are keeping our classroom doors closed and locked.  People are staking out safe spots in our corridor.  “The teachers’ bathrooms with the deadbolt locks are the best places to take your kids, if you can get there.” And it is true.  You could squeeze a lot of kids into each one of those four restrooms.

But  I look around my classroom and there really are no other places to hide, no closets, nowhere to become invisible.  Because a school is not meant to be a place to hide. A school is where every kid should feel happy and proud and above all else, safe.

A school is where a child experiences the exhilaration of reading a chapter book or doing ten jumping jacks without stopping.   A school is where kids can take the stage together and belt out the middle school rendition of The Good Life.  A school is where everyone can wear pajamas on Spirit Day. A school is where the biggest worry of the day should be about too much homework and a jammed locker.

Some people say the answer is to arm teachers. Seriously?  Would target practice then become part our new APPR agreement?  Guess I will have to be satisfied with an ineffective in that domain.

When the Newtown teachers and their kids return to school, it will never be business as usual.  But it will be an act of monumental courage to reestablish a new routine.

God Bless the Children

We heard of the horror in Newtown during eighth period, at the end of the day.  The halls in our own school were Friday afternoon quiet. In classrooms, our teachers were hoping to make the most of every instructional moment, our kids hoping to hear the clock click to 2:43 announcing the weekend, and everyone feeling very safe in a place where everyone should be very safe.

The loss is unimaginable. 20 kids, all between ages of 5 and 10.  20 kids who went to school this morning and who will never come home. 20 kids, each with a family, each with a life as yet unlived.  Maybe they looked forward to singing a song in music today.  Maybe they were worried about a Friday spelling test. Maybe they almost missed the bus. Maybe they had play dates scheduled for this afternoon and basketball practice on Saturday morning. Maybe their families already had holiday gifts wrapped and hidden in the hall closet.

Radio and television news feeds us continuous information– all piecemeal–because we are hungry for details.  No, not out of any morbid need for gruesome facts, but because acts this heinous demand that we know why. Why would this 20 year  old killer–hardly more than a kid himself–fire upon a classroom full of kindergarteners?  There is something in us that makes us think if we know why, we can make sense of this unthinkable evil.

The fact is there is no possible way to make sense of it. Reporters and anchors and television experts will try.  Police investigators and psychiatrists and  politicians will try.  And quite honestly, we need them to try. We need to try ourselves, even as we know it is not possible.

Sometime in the next day or so, a portrait of the shooter will emerge.  It won’t be pretty. It won’t matter, either, though, because in the end, anything we learn about him won’t tell us what we want and need to know, won’t definitively tell us why.

There is no why.

There will be tales of heroism, too.  Already we have heard of the teacher who brought her first graders into a classroom restroom and kept them there, refusing to open the door even when first responders pushed badges under the door, all the while reassuring these scared fifteen kids that she would take care of them, that she loved them, that it was going to OK.

The best we can do as adults is make the kids in our lives–our children, grandchildren, neighbors, students–feel safe and secure. Let them know we love them. Hugs and kisses all around.  For their sakes and for our own well being, we have to be sure we tell them that we will be here to care for them. It is our job to protect the young and vulnerable.  Forget synthesis and differentiation and metatcognition; forget all the rest of the educational alphabet soup and bureaucratic drivel that has seeped into our classrooms and now drives what we do.

And we have to hug one another as well, reaffirming the significance of life, validating the possibility that good can somehow once again find a way to trump the evil that we have seen at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I know the Newtown teachers and their students must go back to school, but I do not know how they will.