Sunday, December 23, 2012

One school teacher's thoughts on the shootings

I am a public school teacher. I am passionate about my work and the place of free public education in the United States (actually, everywhere). The violence of the last two weeks has sucked so much energy out of me. My thoughts here are not as articulate as I would like them to be. I would rather be writing something merry and Christmasy. But I cannot remain silent on something that touches my work and beliefs so deeply.

My heart is broken about the school shooting in Newtown. On so many levels. For the sweet little innocent children who died and their families left desolate. For the adults in the building who died trying to protect the children. For the survivors--the children and adults and their families--trying to put life back together. Who knows how long it will take? Months? Years? Always? How many generations will pass before time in Newtown is no longer marked "before" and "after" the shooting?

For us in the Portland area, especially Clackamas County, the Connecticut shooting came on the heels of the mall shooting at Clackamas Town Center. You try to act like everything is normal in your life, but there is an undercurrent of fear. Especially after we learned that the mall shooter, Jacob Roberts, had graduated from Oregon City High School. Shootings often seem distant and abstract, but with a face and a name--a local boy, one who had walked the halls of the school where I teach--the abstract becomes real and concrete. One of his victims, a 16-year-old girl on her way home from school, survived her gunshot wounds. Her aunt works at Oregon City High School. Once again, the abstract became concrete.

Last week our kids were afraid. Even the juniors and seniors. They acted tough and nonchalant, but you could tell. The high school classes averaged about 50% attendance on Friday. The convergence of the last day before Christmas vacation, the "end of the world," and one student's stupid comment--something like, "It's going to be the end of the world anyway, so it wouldn't matter if there was a school shooting next Friday"---that went goofy on social media...suffice it to say that many of our students started their vacation a day early.

With half the kids gone, the school felt might subdued last Friday. We tried to be cheerful, but the day went weird on us because 1000 of our families had bought into fear and sound bites, which especially bugs me because it's another little victory for Adam Lanza and Jacob Roberts. Anyway. I hope that things will feel more normal after the 2-week break. And I feel guilty for even saying that, because things won't ever be normal for the families that lost loved ones in the shootings.

Two more things about the shootings. I absolutely think Congress should enact a ban on assault weapons. And arming school teachers is a dumb idea. So is having armed security guards at all schools. No thank you, NRA. And I'm not sure what the lines are that Obamacare has drawn around mental health care, but access absolutely should be universal, and the stigmas around seeking mental health care and support need to be addressed with compassion and commitment. Drawing lines of "us" and "them" will not get us where we need to be.

They are all our children.

1 comment:

Annemarie said...

Thank you for these words, Kathy. I share your sentiment. I continue to feel grateful for all public school teachers who return to classrooms again and again after things like this happen. It's the right thing to do, but it's hard for everyone. Take care.