From the President
Students Respond to School Shooting: Maybe This Is a Tipping Point?
Dear Colleagues — These are disturbing times for all of us working in education as we confront our myriad responses to the recent, tragic Parkland school shootings. Grief, shock, fear, even despair, as once again, we saw a school under siege and heard the tally of lives lost. No doubt we have been in renewed discussions about school safety, have increased our drills and procedures, and have asked the terrible question, “What if it were to happen here?”
PROCEDURE FOR RESPONDING
At this point, we know all too well the procedure for responding to children and for addressing the trauma that follows such a horrific event. Maintain the security and familiarity of daily rhythms; assure students as much as possible that they are safe; provide opportunities for them to process their feelings through age-appropriate talk, play, and artistic expression; avoid graphic and repeated images of the tragedy to the greatest extent possible; emphasize art, movement, and nature as powerful antidotes to trauma; reassure our students that we are there for them. This is important, helpful advice that has been repeated more times than we care to remember in the almost twenty years since Columbine. We are fortunate that, for many of us, most of these are routine practices in Public Waldorf schools.
We have reached a point at which a bizarre debate about the number of school shootings, and how a school shooting should be defined, has become normal (it is generally agreed that Parkland was the seventh “school shooting” but the eighteenth “incident involving guns on a school campus” since January 1, 2018). How can such statistics ever be normalized?
A POWERFUL STUDENT VOICE
Yet this time, maybe something is different. Many of us feel hope at the strength and clarity of Parkland’s students, quickly joined by students across the country. They have taken their grief and fear and turned it into a powerful voice for their right to safety at school, their right to anticipate a future, and their demand that we, the adults, step up and take action. Maybe this is a tipping point. Maybe we can understand that the tragedy of school shootings should never become “normal” but are a symptom of the need for a change in our places called schools.
A HEAVY BURDEN ON TEACHERS
What about you, the educators, who are expected to show up daily for each one of your students? There cannot be a teacher or administrator in the country who has not reflected on personal safety, on what one might or might not do, how one would respond, as we practice lock down drills and discuss emergency procedures, all while reassuring anxious children and their parents. Society has placed a heavy burden and increasingly long list of responsibilities on teachers and schools: we are to be instructors, counselors, nurses, social workers, moral leaders, arbitrators, community resource centers…. the list goes on.
ARMING TEACHERS IS A DESPERATE MISUNDERSTANDING
Now it is suggested that we should be security guards or sheriffs. No matter our political affiliation in our current, deeply partisan landscape, it is really, truly challenging to entertain the idea of adding “armed security guard” to the absurdly long list of functions expected of our teachers. Anyone who has spent any time in the dynamic, lively, at times unstable arena of a classroom knows this to be true. Anyone who has watched a teacher multi-task, constantly adapting to multiple demands and competing needs, knows this to be true. This should not be placed at teachers’ feet; it is part of a much wider issue of inverted values, a lack of respect for families and young children, a misunderstanding of the true nature of childhood and of education and teaching.
MANY TEACHERS ARE SPEAKING UP FOR REAL NEEDS IN THE CLASSROOM
An Arm me with tweet campaign provides a growing list of things that teachers really need: supplies, more counselors and school psychologists, resource teachers; adequate compensation; updated facilities; appropriate playgrounds; reduction in emphasis on standardized assessment; more autonomy over what and how they teach. I am sure you have many items you could add, as this is a list that seeks to address the real needs of teachers and students today and, thereby, some of the underlying causes of school shootings.
JOIN OUR VOICES WITH THE YOUNG STUDENTS SPEAKING UP
Let us find ways of joining our voices on behalf of the vital, essential work of teachers and schools. Let us collectively imagine schools that are truly the safe, nurturing places that children need, that are well-resourced to meet the complex needs of modern children, with teachers and school workers who are acknowledged for their courageous, tireless work in service to the future. And let us celebrate the strong, clear voices of our young students who are speaking up on behalf of their right to that future.
Liz Beaven, President
Board of Directors, Alliance for Public Waldorf Education