It’s been one week since the nation sat frozen waiting for the news that all the students were accounted for. One week since I sat on my couch for hours glued to a TV shocked and horrified but still holding out hope that an entire classroom of students would be found hiding somewhere. One week since the families of 20 students and 6 adults are changed forever. And in this past week, as I’ve watched the rest of the world move on, carry on, get back to “normal”, I know for many of us it is taking a bit longer.
Last Friday, I was off from work. I had taken a personal day and had a very reliable substitute for my kindergarten class. I know if anything happened, she would love and protect my class as if it were her own. And in reality, “my” class belongs to anybody in that school. We look after each other as a family and that is a big comfort. When I could catch my breath again around lunchtime, I sent off a frantic text to a few of my friends who teach with me asking them to please physically look at my class and make sure they are okay and happily oblivious to the danger of the world. Within an hour, I had return texts and a phone call reassuring me that my students were happy and thriving without me just as they should be, just as we teach them. We teach them to “treat a substitute just like a real teacher because she IS a real teacher when I’m gone”. We teach them to be independent and creative and loving and compassionate and forgiving and to trust each other and the adults in their school. We teach them school is a safe place. For many of our students, school is much safer than home. For many students, weekends and extended holidays are not times of relaxing and fun. We have students who come to school sick because they know they will get the care and comfort from their teachers and school adults more than they get from their own parents. I’m a proud teacher in a Title I school and we understand that for our students, there is a lot of parenting that happens before the academic teaching can reach them.
So how can we teach them and show them that school is safe when it’s not? We can’t guarantee it will always be safe. I’ve woken up from nightmares every night since Friday and it’s the same dream. My students (past and current and not even “my” students…other classes, too) are behind a fence and I can’t get to them. I can’t reach them. And I know that the darkness behind them is dangerous. I can’t get over that fence and between them and whatever that dark cloud represents. It’s a frantic excruciating feeling. I know it’s my feeling of helplessness and fear and worry and confusion. Is it wrong to keep telling and showing our students that school is safe?
Those students have been on my mind throughout the week. While baking some cookies, I thought about them, wondering if they had that experience this year, yet or was that something saved for closer to Christmas. When the Charlie Brown Christmas came on Sunday night, I wondered if some of those families would have watched it together with hot chocolate and jammies like some of my students did. We had our class Polar Express day on Tuesday. During a quiet moment while looking at the entire Kindergarten in the library, I got a little emotional wondering if this would have been planned for Sandy Hook this week, too. I thought about Josephine Gay. I bet her house still had birthday cake leftover. Her birthday was last Tuesday. She was 7 years old for 2.5 days.
And then there are the teachers. I’m not surprised in the least by the stories of heroism and risk and sacrifice. It’s not bragging. It’s just what we do. We protect students, no matter what. We jump in the bus or car rider line without looking if we see a student dashing for their ride. We cover them during life-threatening tornadoes. It’s just what we do. Its instinctual. If our job is the teaching and protection of children, we know that includes doing everything within our power to do just that….protect. When I heard about the teacher assistant who covered the special needs student with her body , and they both passed from this earth, my heart broke for them. I thought about my own special needs student who is wheelchair bound and I know with 100% confidence that his assistant would do the exact same thing. When I saw both of them on Monday, I got that overwhelming barrage of emotions and I physically hurt for Sandy Hook.
Throughout the week, I think I finally have an answer to my question. Yes, we continue to show them that school is safe for them and that we will take care of them. There are no guarantees that disaster will not strike here but I do feel that our kids need to be able to feel safe and confident in their environment and the school adults in their lives. While we can’t guarantee that bad will never happen, we can reassure them that we WILL take care of them no matter what. Whether it’s a gunman or a tornado, they need to be able to trust in us.
So now what? For me, personally, I’m taking many lessons away from Sandy Hook and I’ll share those along the way. I’m slowly coming out of the frozen stage and like previous disasters, finding a path that is proactive and positive. I think we change the world, starting with ourselves and the biggest tragedy would be letting this horrendous act pass by without learning from it.
On a different note, with regards to blame and theories and what laws to pass or what caused all this, I don’t have the energy to spend on “what ifs”. God is still in schools so I’m not going to jump on the that wagon. God was with those children that day as they left this earth. I believe the Bible and it is very clear on the protection and innocence of children. Those precious souls saw Jesus last Friday.