Much like the rest of the existing world, my mind has been filled with thoughts on schools and the people who fill their hallways nearly every day. What on earth are the right answers to keep them safe? It feels like an impossible answer, a trick question nobody can seem to get right yet everyone seems to know an answer. Meanwhile the debate rages on while lives who fill the hallways continue to die tragically when it all goes wrong.
This is a snapshot of a window into our schools. It is your school, it is their school, it is my school. Most people might see a cozy welcoming entryway for our kiddos but a teacher sees preparing for the worst. You see, those curtains in this picture serve a much bigger purpose then friendly decoration. They are there for a very distinct purpose, to block the visibility of the window to the classroom. While welcoming to most visitors, the intentional reason for the placement there is for protection in an active shooter situation. Yet teachers make it look safe, nothing to panic about when we see it. Look around in a school and you will see it. Every teacher has it in some fashion or theme of their choosing but they have it.
Next look at the door itself. It is open on the inside for entry out but the handle locks from the outside once the door closes shut. Most days students come and go out of the door for various activities or when they need to go to the bathroom which is an all day occurrence. You might be thinking what happens when they have to come back in? You guessed it! Someone is always knocking on the door. To be honest it can be a huge distraction to learning. Much of the time the kiddos themselves automatically place a small magnet in the crack of the door so they don’t have to interrupt when they come back to class. Yet we live in a country where the automatic locking of the door may be what saves lives.
Nobody wants to believe this is all possible in any school until the unthinkable happens. It is easier to push it out of our minds because it is a coping mechanism until we have to accept its reality.
Last week this particular school had a lock down. It wasn’t a drill. A student had escalated to the point of throwing chairs in their classroom, consequently damaging school property and fleeing to the hallway. While there, continued to throw items at the lost and found bins toward staff who was trying to intervene. A threat to themselves and others in this escalated state means the rest of the school secured in lock down procedures. Occurring during the lunch time, the rest of the students were kept longer on recess or in the lunchroom to keep them safe from the situation.
The child I’m describing here is in first grade and I happen to have spent time with them in the classroom. The reality is some of our most innocent, youngest and most impressionable minds are at every school, your school, their school, my school. They are as young as kindergarten. The majority of the time they are as well adjusted and happy as any other child in school. In this one child’s world I’ve seen it. He happened to be student of the week the last time I was in the class and beamed with pride getting to help the teacher read a book aloud and present his show & tell. This is a kind, caring, creative kiddo but one who doesn’t function like the “regular” mold. As such he can escalate to frustration which can quickly turn to anger on to rage and the rage brings out an uncontrollable side to him. This is a child receiving care and attention at school to help him, as much extra care as possible with the resources available.
Is it enough? I’m not certain the supportive services will guarantee this child’s future. What is certain is this first grader doesn’t know how to stop himself once he escalates. What is certain is he is just like every other child I encounter who struggles most in their classroom. The more “different” episodes they experience, the more it shapes their existence. The more it effects how other people treat them.
What is certain is when not escalated he shows love toward others and in turn needs the most love. What is certain is that he needs love tenfold but the opposite so easily happens.
What is certain is seeing school staff scurry to clean up the mess so that others would not panic.
Mental health, it’s struggles, it’s challenges and risks are real no matter how much we try not to face it. Nothing is as raw as seeing it overtake a very young child’s functioning and the impact it has on their existence. Witnessing rules of existing peacefully backfire on their impressionable hearts is disheartening…I behaved badly, now others think I’m bad…my peers say I’m bad…therefore I am bad.
Social connectedness or lack there of is critical to our human experience. God wired us this way because God designed us for love. The stigma of “bad” reinforced over time has the potential to do incredibly more harm than any school support system in place to combat it.
Witnessing those lost and found items flying through the air was difficult because I see this child’s heart. Yet at the same time I could not help but see this kid suddenly lose control of his heart. In that moment I see him behind the eyes of a nineteen year old, escalated to the point of uncontrollable rage they can not control. Knowing it as a cycle that had been building long before any bullets began flying through the air.
It is not justification to take life but it is coming from a broken person. We can and should protect all of our most innocent youth. When will our country wake up when it is almost as easy to pick an AR-15 at the store as it is for this first grader to run to the lost & found? When is it enough?
Love for others, respect for human life and protection of the innocent are all things Christ taught on this earth. Not once are we to value own life and our rights over others and that includes guns.
As a teacher, the thought of spending the day armed with a concealed weapon, to possibly have to defend innocent children’s lives is a weight already heavily weighted shoulders. Even worse, the thought of taking a child’s life who has escalated beyond control is an unbearable thought because at some point or another we have also seen their fragile heart. We’ve seen it and either way we lose.
We’ve failed both. Confessions of a weary teacher.
Loved By Grace,