I remember when I graduated from college with my degree in Elementary Education and Theology that my dad was kind of worried. Yes...worried about me being an Elementary school teacher.
"Where will you try to teach?"
"What district is that in?"
"Are you prepared for a student that acts out?"
"I hear about a lot of violence in these schools..."
This is what was buzzing around me as I prepared to go into my first job.
Unlike some first time teachers who begin without much on the ground experience except for their student teaching year, I was experienced even before getting hired. My university prepared me very well, I had an immense amount of practice given to me through that program, and in addition to that I taught elementary aged students in a multitude of other ways before and while earning my degree.
I learned educational pedagogy, children's psychology, testing techniques, classroom management, behavioral management, and how to teach every single subject for a child in the age ranges of Pre-k to 5th grade. I still know how to use all of these things in the drop of a hat, it became second nature to me.
I was very blessed as a college graduate to receive multiple elementary job offers, including the one I wanted most, 3rd grade gifted and talented. Through a series of events and several movements of the Holy Spirit, I ended up turning that offer down and began what ended up being an 8 year career teaching High School theology. It was the perfect combination for me, teaching a subject that I was well versed in, Catholic Theology, and was able to implement all of the educational techniques and theory that I had learned to keep a good classroom.
I don't think I'm any different from other teachers when I say that I went in to this profession for a few reasons...
I loved my subject matter, so much that I wanted to share that with students and hopefully inspire them to love it too.
I really enjoyed seeing those aha! light bulb moments that students get when they discover something new. To know that you had a part in that is immensely gratifying!
To positively impact the life of another human being. We all have those teachers that we adored and left a lasting impression on us, and we want to give that in return. Most children spend more hours in a day with their classroom teacher (especially in elementary) than they do in their own home during the school week.
Teaching is emotional, it is full mental engagement, and it's a spiritual gift every day! Especially when you teach elementary, it's physical too. And now it's physical on an entirely other level.
I didn't go into teaching to put my physical life on the line, but about several years in that outlook was told to change!
(3 & 4 year old ballet class, this was a lively bunch!)
The Dreaded Training
Active shooter training was something that I went through a few years into my career and while I'll share with you the kinds of things I learned, it left an impression on my heart that is indescribable.
As I sat there listening I thought to myself, "this could really happen!"
"I'm not sitting here being trained on how to teach, I am being trained to protect the lives of my students, and potentially sacrifice my life for them."
"I now need to know what to do in a traumatic and life threatening situation."
And we didn't just sit there seriously considering these hypothetical scenarios, we physically practiced them! Let me rephrase this so that you know how real it is, I practiced saving my own life, and the lives of high school students that do and don't like me, whose parents do and don't respect me.
I give the "dos and don'ts" to help others put this into perspective. Whether or not you like your kid's teacher...
They are being trained how to save your kid's life from other kids.
They are now being trained to do things well beyond educating your children.
They are offering the greatest form of love that there is, complete self-sacrifice.
And they will respond to these horrific moments with braveness and self abandonment, so they deserve our respect.
Teaching was already an inherently self-sacrificing profession, every day all day teachers across the country give, give, and give. When I was in school my professors told us, you will give way more than you receive, and God knows it won't be in pay, but look for the moments of intrinsic reward to keep you motivated and satisfied.
Now, teachers are being called to completely, wholly, and fully self-sacrifice. Lay your life down on the line if you have to. It's unbelievable!
Not because some of these amazing, stellar, out of this world teachers wouldn't do it, but because they shouldn't have to!
Yet here I was in active shooter training, being taught how to:
Barricade a classroom.
Learn various get out of the building routes.
Create classroom lists that would be easy to grab so I can do quick student checks.
Defend myself and my students with classroom objects.
Arrange desks and books to block bullets... yes, bullets.
Check for exits, no joke, anywhere I go now, I check to see where my exits are.
Express how to lower their resting heart rate because we are less likely to bleed out if we are shot.
Apply a tourniquet.
Know active shooter lures and fake out routes, routes that the shooter want you to take.
Use a ballpoint pen to stab a shooter in the neck, like I'm James Spader in the Blacklist.
The list goes on and on.
It amazes me to think that becoming a teacher, is now a lot like becoming a police officer, a firefighter, or other professions that you approach knowing those kinds of potential situations could happen and that you might die in them.
I've seen a lot in over a decade of teaching, but thank God on high that I never had to live through the terror of an active shooter. What I have learned from all of this is how to appreciate and love teachers more, how to see that they are people with stories, professionals with experience, and human beings that deserve our care and respect.
(One of my first years teaching, bit of a blur now, but I was so proud to see them off on a new adventure!)
Show Appreciation for Teachers
This is also how I was raised! Growing up I was taught to give my teachers respect, and I think that's because my parents knew how much those men and women were giving to me as I was going through school. And I was taught to respect the teachers that weren't nice to me, and the ones that I didn't agree with!
Because a teacher is an adult, a professional, and a leader, even if they aren't necessarily a good one.
When something went wrong with in the classroom, my parents encouraged me to handle my affairs in school by applying their at home council. If I felt the need to have my parent talk to one of my teachers, we would do that all together after I sought to reconcile any disagreement with the teacher on my own. If that didn't work, then we got others involved! My parents didn't know it, but their approach to handling an issue with a brother or sister in Christ was actually very scriptural.
Through this I learned how to talk and work alongside teachers in my learning experiences. When I grew up and became a teacher myself, I in turn experienced a lot of students and parents that handled the discussion of grades, behavior, etc. just like this, with a sense regard for me. I gave God thanks for these families, because I also painfully dealt with the opposite.
Of course I encountered students who were utterly rude, called me names, yelled at me, lied, and spewed slander about me for not getting what they wanted. Then there were the parents, some of them very entitled let me know that I was "just a teacher," and they were smarter than me or made more money than me as lawyers, doctors, engineers, business owners, etc.
Of course you know more about education and theology than I do!
What was I thinking sitting here with all this training and experience?
They trusted the word of their teenager over me, even though I was trained to immediately document difficult exchanges between students and would read that almost verbatim.
In essence, this is what happens when exchanges go down like that. Children are empowered to harness hatred and anger against their teachers, against other human beings. Other people, mind you, that are now trained to possibly sacrifice their own life for your child. Note: This doesn't mean that your teacher can never be in the wrong, and a really good teacher will admit when he or she is, but it means that we need to stop talking down to these professionals and enabling our young people to do the same.
I still to this day see a mother, sometimes in passing at church, who will rudely turn her nose up at me or look away quickly with a stern demeanor because her child didn't earn the grade that she desired. It used to actually hurt my feelings because I genuinely wanted the good for each and every one of my students, even if we disagreed about a grade.
I share this with you, not to gossip, but to give you first hand anonymous examples so that you know the experiences of teachers. The days are long and typically non-stop, I honestly have not encountered another position, especially on that pay scale, whose daily rhythm is that fast and relentless. It is high time that these professionals are given the respect they deserve. I can't change their pay because God knows that would help them out and probably be the first request, but what I can do is bring a call to action for tangible, grateful, and joyful interactions with them.
Professional educators are dedicating their days to teaching your babies (no matter how old they are) how to learn, how to work with others, how to be in the world, and how to grow! Some of them are giving them deeper spiritual lives, emotional awareness, and behavioral assistance. And your child's teacher may be the one to save your child's life one day, God forbid!
(Leaving my sweet 1st graders to go teach High School.)
Ideas for Sending Positive Vibes
Here are some ideas for forming positive, uplifting experiences with your child's teacher. By the way, junior high and high school teachers need this too, we all know kids in that age range are not as verbally affirming.
1. Send an email thanking them.
2. Have your child come to class with a small bouquet of flowers or gift card As a token of appreciation.
3. Put together a little basket of his/her favorite things for Christmas.
4. Let them know you are praying for them and their work.
5. If you have a day off or you're a SAHM, call and see if they need help.
6. Put them on the parish bulletin prayer list.
7. Ask the priest of your parish to say a Mass for them and let them know. 8. Teach your children how to respectfully dialogue with their teachers. 9. Describe to your children all that teachers do for them.
These are small gestures that can really go a long way. Remember, most educators are seeking to work alongside you in the development of their child.
(My seniors thought it would be a hilarious prank to turn all the desks around before I walked in, never a dull moment.)
Lest we not forget the families who have been affected by this school shooting, please join me in praying.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.