A Teacher’s Perspective on Mass Shootings in American Schools

If you’ve read my very first blog post then you know I’m a teacher. You also might know that I’m someone with a deep well of emotion. I am quite gifted at numbing those emotions, usually. But when it comes to things like mass shootings in schools, I come undone. I feel pain that is so overwhelming it can’t be articulated. There aren’t enough tears for catharsis. I just cannot even with the state of our society.

I know that none of us is safe. And, I know that this is true for life more generally. That really gets me, this sense of powerlessness. I struggle with my own lack of power on a regular basis but when that lack of power seeps into my work world, that’s too much. Because this place, my work, it is where some of my most treasured people come for 8 hours each day. I adore my students. I adore my co-workers. These people have a special place in my heart, so to think that this powerlessness must inevitably extend to my workplace… it shatters me.

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I cannot possibly fathom the pain and turmoil left in the aftermath of  surviving a school shooting. I cannot imagine the kind of therapy that needs to happen for those individuals who were put in a position to fear for their lives. My heart breaks for the number of people that have gone through this in our country. And that, that is what I really want to write about in this blog.

Broken hearts. I’m not going to tell you all the things that everyone always says when these things happen. I won’t say, “we need stricter gun control laws.” I won’t say, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I won’t even say, “we need more resources for those with mental illness.” No, right now, I want to say we have a compassion problem in this country. It’s a problem because there isn’t enough compassion being given freely. Am I saying that is the only reason these things happen? Absolutely not. I am not so naive as to believe that love and compassion and listening are going to fix the world. But, I will say that it will help. We can’t keep turning a blind eye to the pain of others just because their darkness, their angst, their anger makes us uncomfortable.

People need people. We all, at times, need someone to walk through the darkness with us. Life isn’t a journey that was ever meant to be walked alone. We are social creatures and are impacted deeply by our social interactions, or the lack of those interactions. We need to be seen. We need to be heard. We need to be made to feel like we are not invisible. Because it is in that invisibility, in that loneliness, in that desperation that people act on impulses, that people make regrettable, even lethal decisions.

I know this is walking a fine line. I promise I am not victim blaming here. My heart absolutely goes out to the victims, their families, the survivors, their families. I don’t think any of them has done anything to deserve this kind of trauma. What I am saying is that right now, in this moment, in the aftermath of a tragedy… we need to open our hearts instead of closing them. It hurts. It hurts for me to think about how my students are struggling in silence. It hurts to know that my kids don’t feel safe. It hurts to know that our society is a society of hurt people hurting people. It bloody hurts like Hell to know that I am powerless to protect my students, to truly protect them.

But, you know what, that’s the thing. I’m not powerless. I am in a beautifully unique position to help them learn how to protect themselves, to help them become brave, kind, compassionate humans. I don’t care if they can’t use a comma properly (I mean, who can, really?). I don’t care if they know what modern works were influenced by the works of Shakespeare. Yeah, I’ll use those things as lessons. But the real lesson is a lesson on how to be human. The real lesson is how to hear people. The real lesson is how to craft words that fill people up with goodness. The real lesson is how to have a voice in a society that often makes us feel voiceless. The real lesson is in how to use that voice instead of resorting to violence.

During a lesson on higher order thinking/questioning today, one of my students asked me, “Do you think that bad things, like this shooting happen because teenagers don’t feel heard.” And, I had to really think about his question. Because, yes, absolutely yes, that is a part of it. That is a huge part of the puzzle. Was it the only piece? No, definitely not. It’s possible that this was inevitable. But, can you imagine what the world might look like if we listened to hear people, instead of listening to respond? Could you imagine what the world might look like if we saw people’s pain and we asked them about it, gave them a space to talk about how they’re hurting? You don’t have to be a counselor or psychologist to listen to a person’s story. You don’t have to be anyone or anything special to listen, to bear witness. You just have to be kind. You just have to be attentive. You just have to be compassionate.

 

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