I normally refrain from posting on Facebook my political views mainly because it slightly irritates me to see people constantly posting theirs. Frankly I don’t care and the posts are usually so one sided, I scroll right past to find something more uplifting. But I thought I would take the opportunity on my blog to express my thoughts on the recent school shootings and the gun control politics going on. I plan on blogging multiple posts due to the many complicated issues surrounding the topic. Today’s focus is school violence.
My experience as a teacher is now less than then my experience in healthcare. My bachelor degree is in Physical Education and I was in the classroom two years after I graduated college. In that very short career experience, I saw more than I had ever bargained for and I strongly feel that those years have helped me in so many ways. I’ve carried what I’ve learned throughout the rest of my life so far.
Honestly – in regards to the school shootings in Connecticut just before Christmas – I didn’t feel shocked from the news. My inner feelings were sadness, disappointment, and sorrow but not shocked. I used to be employed at a school specifically for students that were not able to be in a regular classroom because of behavioral or physical challenges. This school had two rooms used for lock-up when needed. I even witnessed a student’s parent physically assault a teacher by beating her head into the hard linoleum hallway floor. I ran to get help while the contracted painters we had at the time worked to get the parent off the teacher. That’s when it hit me that everything I had been aspiring for was slightly jaded and I remember that "ah-ha" moment of realizing the dangers of teaching. This was the 2002-2003 school year. Not too far away from the Columbine school shooting. It takes seeing to believing.
Violence happens every day in regular classrooms as well. As a PE teacher for 6-8th graders in a regular public education middle school I saw violence regularly there too. If you think the school where your child(ren) attend has no violence, you are ignorant. Violence is not just guns; it’s the verbal abuse to homosexual students. It’s a dig at the poor kids’ lack of hygiene or clothing. It’s the vandalism to peers belongings. Stop worrying about locking the doors and security guards. Start committing yourself to teaching (by example) kindness, community, and lifting one another up. If you treat children like they are in a prison, they will soon act like criminals. Do your research – check out "A Class Divided"http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/. Be a volunteer at school. You will at least get a few more pieces of information as you decide for yourself what is needed in our schools. I personally find that locking doors, cameras and having security staff can be helpful if used appropriately. If those things are put into place just to check off the checklist, then they will not be very effective and give everyone a false sense of security.
Here are some tips that I have found useful and easy to apply every day:
- Teach your children how to call for help. This sounds way to simple doesn’t it? With more and more homes that do not have a land line phone, dialing "911" is not as easy as it once was. If cell phones are the only type of phone your family uses, make sure your children know how to turn it on, unlock it, make the emergency call when it is locked, and how to dial a number on the cell phone.
- Talk about good strangers and bad strangers. When I was in kindergarten, I vividly remember a stranger trying to kidnap me in the car pick-up line at school. He told me he had candy and to get in and I could have it. I remember considering it. Then I asked him what our secret word was. He couldn’t tell me so I didn’t get in. I must have told my teacher about it because the next memory about this incident was the principal taking me out to the parking lot to try to get me to describe the car I saw from looking at the teachers’ cars. I remember exactly now what he and the car looked like but a five year old struggled with that. My children have secret words now too. They know not to go with anyone that can’t tell them their secret word. They don’t even know each other’s. And we tell them if someone besides us will pick them up like a grandma. Then we practice with them over and over and then throughout the year for reinforcement.
- Teach them to follow directions from their teachers and principal. If the teacher says go out the window (or things that sound silly), they should follow the directions. This is different from instructions that may be inappropriate and you have to talk to them more than once about the differences. If someone "bad" is in the school, we’ve taught our daughter to always listen to her teacher even if the request seems really silly. We talk to her about what to do when she needs help in the hallway on the way to the restroom for example and someone is causing problems. Depending on the scenarios we talk about she can recite what to do: either go get someone she trusts, find the nearest adult, or simply scream - as loud as she can and for as long as she can.
- I think that this tip is something most people would rather avoid: teach coping skills. As parents we don’t want our children to feel pain, ever. Is that realistic? Absolutely not. Unfortunately pain, loss and suffering will be a part of our children’s lives despite our efforts to prevent it. Parents are responsible for teaching children coping skills otherwise, they will learn their own or seek other methods of coping. Feeling pain is part of being human and we must help them navigate these emotions. How are we for examples? I have my moments, believe me, but when something bad happens in the family or in the news, how we respond is their first indication on how they should act. We simply cannot just tell them to suck it up and move on. Violence on the level we’ve seen on the media lately requires some processing for all of us. Children see life differently, not as adults so we have to be patient, answer questions as best we can and help them cope in a healthy way even if that means getting past the stigmatism of mental health services.