When I decided to become a teacher, school shootings were still a rare occurrence. I remember watching the Columbine High School tragedy unfold on my television screen when I was a freshman in high school, but it was so incredibly shocking because it was so rare. I never thought that being a teacher would become a dangerous profession. Now that school shootings are becoming more and more common, my friends and family have started asking me if my desire to teach has lessened, or if I am afraid to go to school. After every tragedy, and especially while watching the events in Newtown, Connecticut unfold in much the same way as I watched the events in Columbine, I find my resolve to teach only grows stronger, for many reasons. Here are just a few.
1. It’s for the kids.
Of course, teachers teach for the kids. Our students are what motivate us to get up in the early morning to make it to school in time to get our classrooms ready for the day, even after long nights of planning lessons or grading papers. Our students are funny, heartwarming and excited to learn. They do unexpected things and keep each day interesting. When a tragedy unfolds at a school, even if it isn’t anywhere near our school, the students are the first to jump in and help in any way they can. From collecting donations to holding fundraising events, my students care so deeply and just want to help. In the wake of every tragedy, there is this beautiful need to pull together and make a difference, and I want to be there to help them do that.
2. I can be a good role model and a safety net.
Teachers are now trained to be on the lookout for unsettling behavior or sudden changes in students. Often, we will never know if we have caught someone and gotten them the help we need before something unthinkable happens, and it is a misnomer that anyone can really see the signs before something like this happens. However, I know that I have helped many, many students open up and feel empowered by turning to the counseling programs our school offers rather than allowing their feelings to eat at them. When I tell them there is no shame in accepting help if they are going through a rough patch or just need someone to talk to, they believe me. If I can help even one student find a safe space in school, I’ve done my job.
3. It’s for the community.
School shootings like the ones in Newtown, CT and Littleton, CO not only take a toll on the school, but on the entire community, as well. At the center of every community is its school system, and when a tragedy occurs within a school, it affects the community, as well. While I do teach for the students, I also teach because I believe in the community in which I teach. I want to empower my students to go forth and do real and permanent good in the world, starting with the community in which they live. Knowing that this good extends into the community and can inspire more people to become role models and safety nets means fewer tragedies have to occur at all.
4. Education is the only way to stop these tragedies.
The best way to prevent tragedies is to educate students about them. Many people – teachers and parents included – are of the mind that it’s best not to talk about these things, especially with young people, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Students can’t hide from the outpouring of news stories about events such as these, and it takes teachers and parents to talk to the next generation about why these terrible things happen, and what we can do about it.
5. My high school students don’t even remember Columbine.
I primarily teach sophomores in high school. At 15 years old, they were only two when the shooting at Columbine happened. They truly don’t remember a world in which school shootings were not commonplace. Oftentimes, this can foster a sense of futility in students. If these tragedies keep happening, they ask themselves, how can we possibly avoid them? By teaching my students about the first of these school shootings, and reminding them each time something like this happens, I can help them understand that the world was not always this way and, therefore, doesn’t have to continue to be in the future. There can be a world without this type of violence, and we can create it.
It will be difficult to go back to school on Monday, because my students will ask me to share my feelings about Friday’s events with them. I’ll try not to get too emotional as I do so, but I will make one point crystal clear: The world is in the hands of my students, and now is the time to work to end these senseless tragedies once and for all.
Photo Credit: University of the Fraser Valley