Students demanding safer schools with Saturday march

Published 10:13 am Thursday, March 22, 2018


Contributing columnist

I will march. On Saturday, March 24, I will march with students. I will march because school safety is a nonpartisan issue that affects us all. I will march because for the next decade, for 180 days a year, I will send my own sons into public school buildings, and I want them to come home safely every single day. I will march because I too want to feel safe at work. And I will march because of my own ignorance.

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The day after the Parkland Florida shooting, and three weeks after the Marshall County shooting, I opened class with a letter and a few questions for students to write about in their journals. I explained to students, in the short letter, that I was in 9th grade when the Columbine shooting occurred, that my school retaliated by banning trench coats, that at the time I thought it was dumb, and perhaps I still do, but I now understand that the school felt it had to do something.

Among the questions posed to students were: “what can be done?” and “why do kids joke so much about school shootings?”

Students came up with some feasible and practical plans for what can be done to protect schools: loud alarms and strobe lights, smoke/fog machines, lockdown plans that only teachers know about, and school resource officers. Ironically, not one student on that day mentioned arming teachers. Not one student. But what’s perhaps most shocking about their solutions was their obvious thought. These kids did not think up these solutions that day in my classroom —  they had been thinking about these solutions for years. They think about the safety of their own school every single time another school falls victim to a school shooter. Our American children are spending their thinking-time making our schools safer instead of what we assume they spend their thinking-time on (dating, future plans, school work).

And why do they joke?

“We joke because it’s the only way to not live in fear and depression.”

That’s what I was told. By every single class. They joke so they can save their own childhood innocence. They’re pragmatists; they’ve figured out a practical way to maintain some form of happiness in the face of daunting truths. And we punish them for this. I’m not suggesting we let kids run their mouths without consequence, but I am suggesting that there is a problem that lies within our own ignorances.

We don’t know what it’s like to go to school with this fear. We simply don’t. Perhaps some of us were in school in 1999, when two kids shot and killed 12 students and a teacher in Columbine, Colorado, but even so, that was just the spark that ignited this trend that now faces our society at least twice a year: mass shootings.

So much of parenting — and teaching — is dependent upon our past experiences. I am able to help students through relationship issues because I had relationships at their age. I can talk them through creating their next year’s schedule because I made a junior high school schedule once, and I can recall how that could’ve affected my future actions. But when it comes to school shootings, when it comes to doubting my safety when entering school, I have nothing to go on. My students are superior to me in this understanding, in this fear.

So many of my colleagues are ignorant to their ignorance, and therefore do not understand and are not accepting of why students are walking out for #NationalWalkOutDay, or why they are organizing for March for Our Lives. I’ve tried avoiding conversations with my own peers and colleagues about the march because I’m always confronted with the same question posed in a condescending tone: “What’s their message?”

When asked the same question, student responses always focus on having their voices heard — not being forgotten. They hate the way shootings dominate the news for a few days, a week, and then are let go. They feel let down by adults who pose solutions, but take no action. They admittedly do not have one single message because the problem is not solvable with one single solution.

On Feb. 15, I ended up scrapping my planned lesson for the day, and for each of my classes we just talked. Sometimes kids need that — to talk. That’s another thing I learned that day; they do not appreciate that teachers so often avoid difficult topics that are real and relevant because they “need” to go on with class content. And from a teacher’s perspective, I get it; we are fed the mantra of “every instructional minute” and this idea that any time spent on non-content work is time wasted. But we teachers need not lose the mantra that got us into this profession in the first place: “in loco parentis” — we are part of these kids’ upbringing. We teach children, not subjects.

In the days after the Parkland shooting, I doubted my professional choice. I discussed with my husband what skills I have that I can take somewhere else. How I didn’t feel like I could do my actual job when I was anxious about even being at work. How I hate that we are being told to scrutinize every person inside and outside of the school. Which are all healthy measures for school safety, but they are not part of anything I imagined I would have to do as part of this job.

But I will not trade my job for any other. I am a good teacher, and I love my job. I love my students, and I love that I can put some good into the world through my daily interactions with teenageers. For now, I am okay: the students who have organized the March for Our Lives in Harrodsburg have given me hope. Their action, and the fact that they are taking action, makes me proud to put the future in their hands.

So, on Saturday, March 24, at 12 p.m., I will march in Harrodsburg from the Judicial Center to the Fiscal Court. I will march to support the future of American schools. I will march for school safety. I will march for my own children. And I will march because I know that there are things that students understand that I cannot.

I will march. Will you?