This isn’t a letter mocking the “thoughts and prayers” response to a school shooting. This isn’t a letter demanding immediate gun control…and this isn’t a letter sympathizing with any school shooter.
It’s just a chance for us to talk, as teachers. Because, truthfully, none of those types of letters will lift the grief you’re feeling right now. And, truthfully, when you entered this profession, you probably had very few opinions on guns — or politics in general (happier days). All you knew back then was that you were meant to teach and nothing would deter that.
The shooting at Columbine (3rd grade for me), was an anomaly. Maybe you vowed to never let something like this happen in your classroom. I didn’t make that vow until my senior year of high-school when news of the Virginia Tech shooting broke. I made it again my freshmen year of college when news of the NIU shooting broke…and again my second year of teaching on the morning of December 14, 2012. Those wouldn’t be the only mass shootings growing up, but those would be the ones that hit home.
And today, another one happened. But today feels scarier…and I think you feel the same. You’ve come to the same realization that school shootings have become a part of the school culture. There’s no running from that fact now. In fact, you probably have a lock-down drill scheduled sometime in the spring.
What’s worse…is that you’ve likely poured through statuses and tweets looking for answers and trends. Instead, you found something worse.
We’re all debating (and dismissing) what to debate, when to debate and who to debate.
To me, and maybe you, the only question you have isn’t “what now” but instead, what went wrong?
I never asked that question in 3rd grade. Back then, I was told that guns are for bad people and bad people seek out guns. I accepted this. Society painted these shooters out to be the rejects, the bullied, or the loners. So, I adjusted. I started hanging out with people who didn’t look like “the school shooters” rather than open my heart and mind to those around me. Nearly a decade later, I know better. Now I teach the rejects, the bullied, or the loners. And guess what? They don’t look like the people I tried to avoid. In fact, those are some of the happiest students in my classes.
Instead, I have had to come to terms with another truth. At some point, all of my students have fallen into one of those categories. They just dress better than kids did in the 90s.
Contrary to what many believe, in some ways, it IS harder to be a kid nowadays. I had the same exposure to drugs and alcohol. To be honest, it was the social thing to do after Prom, or on the weekend at someone’s house who was trying to climb the social ladder. It was a group activity. But what I’m noticing now — and what I keep trying to ignore — is that many students today are using these drugs in solitude. You won’t have to search too hard to find a high school teacher that can attest to this. Many students are using these drugs to mask their trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression. They’re leaving school high. They’re exploring drugs beyond marijuana on a Tuesday morning. They’re hungover on a Thursday morning. And maybe they’re even on the honor roll. So, what are they trying to escape from?
What went wrong?
Maybe you want to talk about that.
But, truthfully, you know you don’t even have time. Because in 12 hours you’ll be in front of your students again. And right now, you’re probably putting your own children to bed. You don’t have the luxury of being angry, confused, sad, or even numb. Instead, you will need to model compassion, understanding, love, and most importantly, peace…
while everyone around you fights.