Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Year Ago

This morning, after a night of decorating my Christmas tree and getting ready for a holiday celebration with friends, I found myself thinking about where I was one year ago today.  It was 2:30pm, and the end of another school day.  Another blur had passed of teaching 5 classes, rushing around the building looking for a free copy machine, and hoping to have enough time to finish my lunch. Two students stopped by after the bell rang and asked, "Did you hear what happened today, Ms. A?" At this point, I had not.  I didn't know that someone had entered an elementary school  in a town eerily similar to my own with a mission to kill.  I didn't realize that after 27 years, I hadn't seen and heard on the news the worst of the evil that exists in this world. "Why would someone do something like this?" They asked me.  I didn't have an answer for them then, and I still don't.

I knew entering this profession that there would be days were I'd experience and have to respond to the unexpected.  I knew there would be times when I'd find myself on the spot trying to explain things I couldn't explain.  But I never imagined the degree to which this might be necessary, and I instantly saw myself in the shoes of Victoria Soto, the 27 year old teacher who was killed protecting her students.  I spent the commute home that day listening to the news on the radio, sobbing in disbelief, and with the deepest sadness I had ever felt for teachers, parents, and children I had never met.  While thinking about this moment one year later, I've realized that although it was and still is one of the most sickening feelings I've ever felt, not only as a teacher but as a human being, the only way I can respond to this that will have any significance is through learning from it, and through committing to keeping positivity, problem solving, and kindness a priority in my own life and in my own classroom.

As teachers, it's so easy to get caught up in our daily routines.  We wake up in the morning, drink our coffee on the way to work, and before we even have a chance to speak our first words of the day, there are children at our doors waiting to ask us questions about last night's homework, or emails in our inboxes from parents expressing concern over a recent quiz grade.  It's so easy to turn to negativity and blaming when we are struggling with our students or with our workload, and it's so easy to get into a cycle of complaining when things just aren't going our way, or when people just don't understand what we deal with.  It's easy, but when the dust settles, it's exhausting, and it eliminates the opportunities we have to truly make a difference in the lives of our students.  On December 14th, 2012, I never realized more clearly that the more time we spend focusing on problems and not solutions, the more we are ignoring students that truly need our help, and the more we are slowly squeaking open the doors of opportunity for another something tragic to happen in our schools.

It may seem like a huge monster to tackle, eliminating the possibility of violence in our schools, but it's not impossible.  According to the US census, there are 7.2 million teachers in the United States, 3 million of which are teaching at the elementary or middle school level ( There are THREE MILLION of us who teach at this crucial time in a child's development, and who have the opportunity to impact what kind of human being each child will be.  Every moment we spend complaining about how frustrated we are with that child in our classroom who is defiant or disrespectful is a moment wasted in trying to understand that child's behavior and searching for a solution.   I'll be the first to say that it's much more difficult to relentlessly search for successful interventions than it is to harp on the disbelief that these behaviors are still occurring in my classroom, or to blame lack of success on lack of support in our classrooms.  It's more difficult to run a classroom that focuses on educating the whole child than it is to run a classroom that focuses on academics only.  I can't lie and say that I don't find myself sometimes falling back into that pattern. It's certainly more difficult, but now more than ever, it's more important. We have so little time in our days as teachers to truly and collaboratively problem solve and support one another, how can we justify a minute wasted? Students spend a majority of their waking hours in our classrooms.  How can we justify only teaching them how to individually read, write, and multiply instead of teaching them to work as a team and look out for one another? If there are three million of us who are willing to take the more difficult path, or at least look in that direction, there is no way we can fail.

Although I am still devastated to think about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut one year ago today, and I am still brought to tears when I try to understand how the young man who did this never got the help he really needed, I know that as a teacher, I can play a small role in possibly preventing this from continuing to happen.  For the 107 students I will have over the next two years, I can make it a priority to dedicate myself to not only making sure my students are meeting the standards of the Common Core,  but also to making sure my students are kind, grateful, helpful, and empathetic human beings.

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