Thursday, December 20, 2012

Silent Night

On a cold, wet night 400 miles from home I joined other families as they awkwardly approached the school patio of my granddaughter's school.  It was too dark to make out faces or expressions.  In the shadow of the school building, we gathered  for a candlelight vigil in support of the 26 lost in the Connecticut school shooting.  The young principal, about the age of my own children, opened with a few sentences and then turned it over  to a mom who said she just felt like she had to do something and had asked the Principal to hold the vigil.  Her husband's voice broke as he tried to express what was in each of our hearts.  We tried to light candles but the whipping wind snatched the glow quickly as each candle was lit, much like the lives of the 26 were snatched in the horror of gunfire last week.

Even as the candles extinguished we stood without leaving.  We wanted to leave... but just seemed glued to our spots, hoping to complete some sort of unfinished business that we couldn't even put into words.  Finally a parent suggested that we sing Silent Night. We did. The Principal suggested another moment of silence before we dispersed.  Even in the hard chill of the night it was hard to leave.  I think we had each come because we wanted to do more, but we just didn't know what to do.  We left slowly, heartbroken...

My life is surrounded by teachers - my peers, of course, but also my husband, son and daughter, my daughter-in-law, my sister, niece and nephew.  I can't even think about what it would have been like to get that call that any one of them would not be coming home.  I do not doubt that each of them would have protected the children in their care at all costs...  and my family would never have been the same.  My first grandchild attends public school.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about her in a building with gunfire, and I can't imagine losing her to such a senseless act of insanity.

I can't change the events of the past.  I don't really want to go to a school with metal detectors and bars on the windows, being afraid of every stranger that walks the hallway.  On the other hand, I want to do everything I can to make sure that the children are safe.  I don't know what the political debate will be or what it will bring, but I know that I must find my voice and advocate on the side of the children - always on the side of the children.  I plan to make sure that my children feel safe and protected and that they know I will be there for them, no matter what.  I plan to make sure parents know that I will protect their child and care about their child, in the same way that I know someone is protecting and caring for my own precious grandchild, so far away.  I have always believed that the children that step through my door come by Divine appointment, so I will continue to pray for God's guidance as I walk this path with my children.  I will rededicate my days to making, not only their academics stronger, but their minds stronger, so that they do not find themselves so desolate and mentally sick that they have a need to strike out - that they are strong enough to understand those that are suffering and reach out before the moment of despair.  And... in every step I take from this moment, I will always remember... the 26.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

National Tragedy

Like me, I am sure teachers across this country are heart broken at the school shooting tragedy this week.  There are just not works to express the outrage and sorrow I am feeling.  I am sure each teacher has imagined herself in that circumstance and hoped and prayed that she would have been brave and been able to protect her babies.  I can't even imagine how the families are coping with the situation and loss...

This tragedy reminds me once again why we do what we do.  A teacher wrote me a message at the end of the day on Friday - our last day before the holiday - because one of my former students had another complete emotional breakdown.  He has been struggling for much of the year and she, with a team of caring teachers, is bravely and consistently trying to do what is best for him and his family... and for the rest of her class, but it is wearing her down.  You know that child.  The one some teacher labeled as just "bad."  The one that tries your last nerve and sometimes makes you want to scream.  The one you cry over and spend sleepless nights trying to figure out a new strategy for the next day.  The one that takes all of your bag of tricks and frustrates you beyond what you think you can handle.   The one whose parents are either as exasperated as you are or as exasperating.  The one who is "odd" and who has as many problems with his peers as he does with adults.  The one who can't think past his own wants and who is often devoid of appropriate remorse.  The one that you still worry about when he leaves you...   It's the child that you worry about because you suspect he will make headlines one day - in a shooting tragedy like the one we just witnessed.

It's the reason that I believe in inclusion -that all children need an environment that is a microcosm of life - where they can practice and learn the lessons of feeling guilty and making it right, of standing up when someone is bullied, of sharing and feeling empathy, of knowing what is right and wrong and acting on those beliefs, of learning how to handle anger.  Academics may be the reason that schools are organized, but it's life skills that are the core of what we do.  If the difficult children are isolated, they may never learn the lessons that will make them contributing adults in our society.  We need to reach out to them with an urgency.  We need the resources to make sure that we can reach out to them.  We know that the family is breaking down - we see it every day - and that many of our children will not have the nurturing comforts of a loving, two parent nuclear family - that instead they will face poverty, abuse, hatred.  It is our moral - even Divine - directive as teachers to try to be the agent of change in this world filled with so much horror. We are the ones who must furnish the comfort and safety in this world if no one else can.  Is it too much to ask?  Of course, it is, but we will continue to do the impossible every day.  My heart goes out to the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary who faced  the unbelievable and against unimaginable odds, will go on to teach another day.  My heart breaks for those who lost their lives... I hope their families know that they fought the good fight and will always be our heroes.  That is probably little comfort to families who lost mothers and sisters and daughters.  May their sacrifice not be in vain.  May we rededicate ourselves to those children who, without us, will be lost.  May be continue to find our voices, and shout to the rooftops our need to be able to support these children. And every day that we walk out of school drained, close to tears, wondering how we will walk into that classroom one more day, may we remember that we ARE making a difference.