I Never Learned This in School

So December 2013 is another month marked by yet another school shooting. It’s almost commonplace now yet as I looked around the excited faces of our middle schoolers at their annual basketball pep rally this afternoon, it’s unimaginable. I cannot envision one of them turning on their classmates and teachers with a deadly weapon. I cannot picture an armed intruder entering our school.

And I don’t want to.

After Brock heard about the latest incident on the news, he brought up the idea of doing some pro bono training for teachers. This is a man who has made his life’s passion about protection and defense. I have no doubt that his empty hands against a gun would at least result in a fight. He wants to share his expertise so that teachers could be better prepared. I appreciate and understand his motivation and intent.

But I don’t want to.

I don’t like assuming the role of a security officer at school. I am stretched enough as teacher and counselor and social worker and nurse and cheerleader. And playing police defeats those other roles. The roles I signed up for. I don’t know if I possess the capacity for the duplicity required. Middle schoolers don’t respond to clinical detachment; you have to form relationships. But how do you build a relationship at the same time you train how to take them out? Perhaps it is something that can be learned.

ButI don’t want to.

It makes Brock upset. And, I’m sure, scared every time he hears those reports. He knows techniques and strategies that could potentially help. It frustrates him that I don’t want to learn those operations. But I don’t know if I can and continue to work in my role as a teacher.

I never learned this in school. I was taught how to attack curriculum, not people. I was taught how to motivate kids, not take out adversaries. I learned how to break apart the processes of math, not the bones of others. I am sure I could learn these other lessons,  these techniques more suited to SWAT than pep rally.

But I don’t want to.

Maybe it’s my way of keeping my head in the sand. Keeping the possibility at a safe enough distance. Maybe it’s because being a teacher is overwhelming enough and I can’t imagine adding another layer to balance. Perhaps I’m just not made of the right stuff to be able to respond tactically in chaos. Maybe it seems futile because I can not (will not?) dedicate the time needed for real training.

I don’t know.

But I do know that these reports always shake me to the core.

The hard slap of reality delivered with a frightening regularity.

I do know it makes me want to hug my students.

And assure them they’re not alone.

I do know it changes the way I feel, walking into my job every day.

It puts the little things in perspective.

I just read an article today that discussed the first national summit on school shootings. Those involved were trying to come with a profile that would fit the classic perpetrator. And basically, what they came up with was a pretty typical teenage boy. Not necessarily a loner, no more likely to come from a single parent home. Just a kid.

The kind that move through my classroom every day by the dozens.

I don’t want to view each of those kids as a potential shooter.

I can’t.

What I can do is try my best to see each one as an individual. To build relationships. To reach out. To listen. To get help when needed. To reassure and motivate. To build community and trust.

I may not know how to wrestle a gun from someone’s hands. But maybe I can do a little bit to keep it from those hands in the first place.

And hope that is enough.

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7 thoughts on “I Never Learned This in School

  1. I work for a school district and I agree that our teachers have enough on their plates to become School-Land Security. But, anti-bulllying programs, a few of hours of basic safety training, and awareness goes a long way. Get to know your students, go with your gut, and speak up when something ain’t right. Be an advocate to keep guns out of our children’s hands! What does it have to take to get guns away from children? I thought Sandy Hook would have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, but we were sadly mistaken. How many more children have to die?

  2. Australia had a mass shooting in 1996 which plunged the country into grief. This was so profound that the government of the day stood up to the gun lobby, made sweeping changes to legislation, and virtually eliminated such shootings from Australia. I have noticed in America there is a tendency to look at the psychology behind the person who does a shooting, or at protective measures in place. Those are important, yet not nearly as effective as eliminating the presence of guns from society in the first place.

    1. I understand your reasoning that without guns, their would be not gun violence. I do get that. I don’t own a gun; not that I wouldn’t, but I don’t.

      In the U.S. in 1955 there was a movie titled “Blackboard Jungle” in which a teacher was threatened by a student with a switchblade knife. In 1961 it was knife fights in the musical West Side story about two New York gangs. Now, it’s guns. Soon it will probably be bombs. I am waiting for the student car to be used as a weapon in the near future. How many devices do we outlaw at the inconvenience of the world at large before we begin to realize we need to treat the root problem? There will always be a certain number of nut-jobs we cannot defend against 24/7/365. There are those among us, however, who could benefit from “treatment.” We need to do preventive treatment, not just healing treatment. In many cases, we recognize but do nothing about bullies-to-be, malcontents-to-be, victims-to-be and others who have no hope and feel oppressed. They respond by oppressing others and acting out in other antisocial ways. You have only to look at the inordinate percentage of non-white kids and adults at the bottom of the education and economic ladder who act out their frustrations in antisocial ways by either “punishing” themselves with violence and abuse within their culture or on their perceived oppressors.
      When “for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance really means an economically, educationally, genetically and generationally privileged few, not “all,” at some point the incentive to take displaces the incentive to earn that which is fast becoming “un-earnable” to even some of the “privileged” whites. It is a thing wars have been fought over throughout history. When you steal the dream, you also steal peace and deny purpose. Rebellion then replaces purpose. We need to return the dream and encourage the purpose. We are reaping what we have sown and we cannot fix it overnight or legislate it away. It will take time and the sooner we start, the better a chance we can heal the wounds and retrun hope. Ask any non-white kid in grade school what they want go be when they grow up. Ask them again in high school if they are still around. What happened to their dream? Yeah, it happens to white kids too, but usually because we give up or change our minds. Most of them see the opportunity being denied beyond their choosing.

      Now, having said all that, what is so different about the psyche of the white male adolescent and young adult with a poorly developed pre-frontal cortes that when faced with similar frustrations and rejection they are capable of mass violence and subsequent suicide? To quote that famous lawman Barney Fife, “Nip it in the bud.”

  3. My husband was a martial artist who always encouraged me to train, both for my own safety and that of others. I, too, didn’t want to. Even after spending three hours with a restless and obnoxious eighth grade class (not my own students) as our school was in lock-down and the sheriff’s deputies searched the adjoining fields for a murder suspect, I didn’t want training. I just wanted a good enough relationship with the students to be able to help diffuse their frustrations and calm their fears. I grieve for the victims of these shootings…and my grief includes the shooters. – Fawn

  4. From each of us, we view these through the lens of our experience and our emotions. My initial response is always fury, when I allow myself the space to calm that first response I feel nothing but despondency. For the victims and our society, because we never not once do the right thing. This was wonderfully stated.

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