Sunday, December 16, 2012

They won't have to ask that question

This post may be a bit scattered but that is how my thoughts have been since I learned of the terrible news from Newtown, CT Friday afternoon.

Teachers know the rhythms of a school day and how a school is set up. We can understand in a more direct sense what it might have felt like for those who survived and perished on Friday. They understand how closely in our hearts we hold the children we teach... that they have become our children too. The feelings I have when I visualize what occurred in Sandy Hook elementary school are powerful and difficult to shake. My heart goes out to those in Newtown that have to deal with these feelings and the reality of losing a loved one more directly.

I have no profound solutions to share regarding the tragedy. I have read the Twitter snippets that cite the virtual elimination of these types of tragedies in the UK and Australia after weapons bans were instituted. I guess, you could probably place me more on the overhaul of our mental health system side of the ledger however. If you have ever had the experience of watching a loved one struggle with mental health issues, of having to see them wait days in the ER for a placement in an inpatient unit to receive acute care, and then experience how hard it is to procure and maintain adequate outpatient care, you know what a sham our mental health system is in this country. And how secret that fact is. There are troubled souls out there among us and the more we can sweep it under the rug, the better. Of course until it comes bubbling up. Maybe the UK and Australia also provide significantly better health care services for their citizens. I don't profess to know or have any answers.

School is in session tomorrow. Hopefully by then I will feel more ready to be with my students. I will be positive, keep to the usual classroom routines for much needed structure, and be more aware of how they are feeling. Depending on what questions come up, we may talk about probability and statistics and how safe they are in school, the number and type of safety precautions that are taken, how much their teachers care for them.  But some of the illusion of security that I felt I provided my students when they are in my charge has been taken from me, from all of us, by this tragedy. And right now, it is not such a great feeling.

Seventh graders possess an interesting combination of naivety and "street smarts" - for lack of a better term. They are beginning to understand that things that grown-ups tell them or plan may not be fully accurate or foolproof but still want to, need to, believe that we can protect them. This past week at our school we had an unplanned fire drill and a planned Code Blue/lockdown drill. Both went without incident. And after each one, the usual questions came, especially from the children who have watched way too many action movies designed for adults. Mr.Vitale, what would happen if a fire started in the hallway first? Mr.Vitale, what would happen if someone pulled the fire alarm but was waiting for us in the hallway? Mr. Vitale, what would happen if someone came into our school with a gun and shot their way into our room? Very sadly, they won't have to ask that one tomorrow.

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