I am not going to lie. It is hard to regularly contribute to a blog (well, I am supposed to contribute regularly). Thinking is the hardest part of writing for me so I usually keep a list of possible topics with the hope that something on the list will spur thought. As I looked over my list of possible topics I realized that I cannot ‘think’ seriously about any of the items on that list. I have spent too much time thinking about what has happened at Sandy Hook Elementary school and the things on my list seem highly insignificant in comparison. In keeping with my propensity for lists, here is a ‘list’ of some of the thoughts that have been running through my head since Friday’s tragedy.
- I can’t help but picture the days leading up to the first day of school, when teachers wrote the names; Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, and Allison, on nameplates for desks, cubbies, and class lists. They were probably full of hope and anticipation for a great school year. I am certain that the challenges they may have imagined did not include mourning the loss of these 6 and 7 year olds or literally giving their life to protect them.
- Teachers all across the country will be having conversations with their students about this event. They, along with parents, are left to explain ‘why’ this happened. How do you explain something so absurd to innocent little elementary children? I don’t know if this ever gets easier. I had a hard time explaining to my first graders why Martin Luther King, Jr. was treated the way he was and it was even harder for me to explain the events of September 11th. This is hard on a whole new level. This is not something that happened before they were born. This was not something that people from another country carried out. School is something they can relate to. This could happen to them.
- Whatever anyone wants to say about teachers, one thing is certain. They love their students. They would give their lives for them. I know a lot of elementary school teachers. I honestly don’t know one teacher, ‘effective’ or not, that would not put themselves in front of their students to protect them from harm. Do we as teachers now have a career that requires that level of sacrifice?
- What will the new normal be? After 9-11 it was increased airport security and suspicion of every person on the same flight as you. After the shoe bomber, it became standard procedure to remove shoes in order to clear security. Will it now be normal for parents to have a knot in their stomach each day as they send their kids to school? Will it now be normal for everyone in an elementary school to be on guard when they hear a loud noise? Will windows disappear in our schools and be replaced with darkness or artificial light?
- Elementary school-aged children across the country are bound to have a variety of responses to the tragedy. Many students are displaying great empathy and kindness to the students who attend Sandy Hook Elementary. Some students have expressed to their parents that they are afraid to go to school. One 11 year old boy in Utah brought a gun to school the first day of school after the attack. He made reference to protecting his friends if anything happened.
- This is all to say nothing of what the shooter’s mother must have experienced not only in her death but in living with such a troubled son. I have met too many mothers who can relate to having such a child. Hopefully, we can have meaningful conversations that will lead to support for these families so parents don’t have to go to bed each night worrying that their child could be capable of doing the same thing.
I also keep thinking about an experience that I had in a 2nd grade classroom just last week. Each student was writing a letter to Santa. I asked one student to share what he had on his list. Among other things, he had written, “I would like a life-time supply of grape jelly.” I asked him if grape was his jelly of choice for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to which he replied, “Oh no. Are you kidding me? I could just drink the stuff right out of the jar.” I think this experience keeps coming to my mind because it captures the simplicity, and excitement of childhood. It seems ridiculous that this week, I am nostalgic for the simple innocence of last week.
Writing conclusions is not a strength of mine (ask any of my English teachers from Jr. High through college) but it is especially futile to even try to end this post with a sweeping and meaningful statement about such a pointless act of violence. So I will simply end by ‘listing’ the obvious: We have been broken. We will heal. Things will never be the same. Also, I have never been more proud of teachers.