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.

Advertisements

Creating home

“Sometimes it is hard to believe we raised two kids in this space,” my husband has said more than once.

He’s right.  By modern Westchester standards, our house is tiny. Before we carved out a bedroom in downstairs space that was once a garage, our kids shared one of the two main floor bedrooms and one bathroom, share being the operative word.  The “yard” is a mini lawn, too small for real sports, but big enough for a sprinkler and a sandbox, though not at the same time.  With some sidewalk chalk, however, the driveway–the steepest bane of our winter existence–became a pastel canvas, a new gallery with every rainfall.  We nurtured a family botanical garden that, over the years,  yielded roses, tomatoes, sunflowers,  marigolds and spices.

What our house lacked in square footage, we more than made up for in warmth.  Our kids agree that as children, they never felt deprived. Our house was truly a home where family and friends–theirs and ours– felt welcomed.  The dining room table was the hub of activity: dinners, homework, snacks, holidays meals, games. Yes, everyone adapted to share the space–a lesson not always easily learned–but generally, we were–and still are– happy.

OK, fine.  But what does this have to do with teaching?

Only everything.

Like a house, a classroom doesn’t have to be decked out with the latest and greatest gadgets to be a home for kids. The best educational toys–at home or at school– mean nothing if all we do is throw them at kids, expecting results.  An effective classroom, like a comfortable home, does have to be a safe environment where it is OK to make a few mistakes and take some risks.  There should be structure and routine and there should be humor and kindness, none of which are available in stores or on line.

Learning communities are built around the human elements in the room, not the space, not the accessories.  Instructional bells and whistles are like 4th of July fireworks: loud but ephemeral. Smartboard  lessons and technology can be engaging, but it will always be  teachers who nurture curiosity and confidence–with or without iPads — who create classrooms where kids will see learning as a life long adventure.  Scholarship is embedded in the culture of these classrooms.  So are self-esteem and pride and dignity.

Families–in homes, in classrooms–evolve out of people.  When kids feel loved and safe, the sky’s the limit.