Teaching in Suburbia
I did not want to go to work Thursday. Wednesday news broke about 17 people being killed in Florida because of a shooting at a high school. Another school shooting!
I am a high school teacher in suburbia USA.
I was terrified to go to work as well as scared to drop my own kids off at school. I know I can’t live my life in fear, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from going through my head.
I did what any responsible adult would do; I went to work.
In my 10th grade World History class each day we start class by watching CNN 10. It is a 10 minute news program targeted towards middle and high school students. In Thursday’s episode they mentioned the school shooting in Florida. I generally stick with my lesson plan each day because students will take any opportunity for teachers to get off topic knowing that no work will get done in class. I also feel that I can’t get too personal with students because I have to remain the professional adult and not their friend. But, I couldn’t let the school shooting go.
Today was different
I told them I was scared to come to work today. I really didn’t know where the conversation would go. In each of my 3 class that day, we had at least an hour long conversation about gun control, mental health, high school pressures, and so much more.
Students opened up about their own mental health struggles. They talked about how hard it is for them to talk to their parents and to find someone that they can confide in. I asked them how do we fix this? Who’s job is it to fix this? Can we fix this?
The overall consensus from my high school students is to just be kind to each other. That is such a simple act, yet it is so complex to master.
I realized it’s so important to have these conversations with students so they know adults care and we are listening. As well as remind them that we all need to be kind to each other.
Most teachers think their subject is the most important subject students need to learn in high school. I know that most students won’t remember anything I teach them in 5 years. My only hope is for them to go out in society and become productive citizens, maybe vote in elections, and be able to tell real news from fake news. So I knew it was more important to have a meaningful conversation with them rather than discuss battles in World War II. I left them on Thursday knowing more about them and they knew more about me and I felt good about it!
On Friday I received two emails from two separate students. I wasn’t expecting any response to our classroom conversations. Their emails reminded me why I am a teacher. One student said, “I just want to thank you for being my only teacher brave enough to talk about the issues going on today … You’ve impacted us so much, the conversation you had with us is all anyone talked about for the rest of the day.”
6 Things I have learned about how to go back to school after a school shooting:
- It is important to have meaningful conversations with students while maintaining professionalism
- It is important for students to know that adults care about them and we are there for them
- Students need to hear that we understand where they are coming from and the struggles that they are experiencing are real and valid
- Let them know that we were once a high school student and felt many of the same feelings that they are
- Point out the similarities that they all have and they really are not that different from one another
- Be honest and sincere and most importantly, kind to each other
Thursday, the day after a major school shooting, my students reminded me why I became a teacher and the importance of me showing up each day excited to see them and happy to be doing my job. They deserve that!