We have far too many of these Monday mornings when children will walk into schools once again after a mass shooting from the day or couple of days before. Any number is too many.
Dearest Texas teachers – as your neighbor, as someone who grew up in one of these small Texas towns, as someone who knows you teach because you believe you have a more important calling than to simply help raise a test score, I wish I had a way to make tomorrow easier.
Honestly, though, I don’t want tomorrow to be easier. My fear is that this day you face tomorrow has become too easy. My fear is that your students won’t expect that this horrific killing will be discussed. My fear is that tomorrow is just another Monday.
My fear is that we’ll put some extra grief counselors in some schools and make an announcement that they are available if any one needs them and then move on to the announcements of when drama club will meet and how the schedule will be adjusted for the pep rally on Friday. My fear is that we’re so damned reluctant to share with kids that we’re as confused, angered, saddened, horrified, and afraid as they are that we take the easy way out – and nod in agreement that it is terrible and then move on. My fear is that there is even one teacher here in this state who will worry that talking about this will open up the gun conversation and that could seem political and that could be bad, so best to just stay away from it at all.
My fear is that even one teacher will forget for one moment that all those students in all those classrooms watch you. Sometimes you know when they are watching. They squint their eyes, tilt the chin, and stare. They dare you to miss that they are watching you. Other times, those eyes dart from desktop to you. Just for a moment before they quickly look away. Sometimes they push someone a bit harder, laugh at someone a bit louder, crash notebooks onto the floor a bit more often just so you’ll look. Look at them. Look past the bravado and the swagger and the “Nah, I’m good” to see the tension, the anxiety, the fear. And sometimes, they just come and stand a bit closer, linger a bit longer, fiddle with something on your desk just chatting about nothing. I can’t tell you how they will watch you, but I can promise that they will.
And that’s why I know, I know, what you do matters and what you do after horrific events matters even more. No one ever told you that you’d need to know how to sit with children or teens to talk with them about people in churches getting killed by a gunman or little kids in a school getting killed by a gunman or families at a concert getting killed by a gunman. No one. And you didn’t sign up for that. You didn’t. But they will watch you and they will listen for what you say and what you don’t say. Many of you have been calling this group of kids “your kids” for months now. They are your kids. And you are their – something. That person who stands before them and affirms them each and ever day.
So, you’ll make that circle a little smaller so that these children sit a little closer and you’ll tell them you’re sad and angry and confused and you know they are, too. And it’s ok to feel that way when such horrific things happen. We’re supposed to feel that way. And you’ll tell them that smart people are trying to figure out why he did this and others are talking about how to keep this from happening again. And others are making sure they are safe where they are. So their job, yes their job, is to make sure that while they are thinking a lot about reading and math and science and band and football, they are also remembering that the most important thing they can learn is how to be a good friend. How to be kind to others.
Our students won’t solve the gun problem we have in this country. And they aren’t tasked with wondering if this was an act of a terrorist or a murderer – a conversation I heard on national TV today. But we can take a hard look at how we treat one another – how teachers treat colleagues, how students treat peers, how teachers and students and parents treat one another – and ask ourselves, “Is there is enough kindness?”
Because all I got right now is that what will get us through the worst times is standing closer, holding tighter, listening harder, loving longer, and being kinder. And if even one child goes home tomorrow, at the end of what I know will be a very hard day, with that quick grin of remembering being kind or receiving a kindness, then tomorrow will be a day well done. And you, once again dear teachers, will have done far more than help raise a test score. You will have helped raise our nation’s children.