As I get ready to go back to school, I, like most of you, am saddened. It's hard to find the balance between allowing yourself to enjoy the festivities of this time of year and coping with the sadness of such a tragedy.
As I read the stories of the teachers who protected their students, it made me proud to be an educator. I left the business world to become a teacher because I wanted to do something that allowed me to have a greater impact on the world. Being a teacher is an overwhelming and chaotic job. There are no extended lunch hours or frequent bathroom breaks. The demands for paper work and peformance only keep growing. On top of it, I see an entire generation of children who need love and a sense that someone cares enough to really see them as people. Parents and society are busy. Teachers are busy. Life is busy. The best thing we can do for our students is to take a moment to pause, breathe deep, and just really see them. The teachers who impacted me the most are the ones who took the time to talk to the lonely, overly mature kid that I was.
I find that I have to constantly remind myself to focus on what really matters. It is so easy to be caught up in the endless to-do list. My goal is to try and smile more, talk with my students individually more, and find small ways to show them I care. Hopefully, none of us will have to be in that position to take a bullet for our students, but we can show them in infinite ways that we care.
There is so much talk going on about how to prevent tragedies like this from happening. Discussions of gun control, security, lock down drills, and right to bear arms are all valid discussions. I think the one discussion that people need to address is what do many of these shooters have in common. The answer to that question is usually mental illness. As a society, we will walk, run, and advocate for diseases like cancer and heart disease. The type of mental illness that causes someone to become a sociopath to the point of having no conscience or empathy for others can be present at a very early age. It is often caused by trauma in utero or early childhood trauma. Children need to feel loved and secure in order to properly attach, build meaningful relationships, and develop a healthy respect for others. When trauma causes children to never really attach, the consequences can be frightening.
My mom always wanted more children and adopted three more kids when I was a teenager. All three were adopted as babies, but they were all born addicted to drugs. Two of my three siblings despite all of my mom's love, nurturing, and advocating to get them the right help have severe mental health issues to the point that safety has been a concern.
Our foster care system is broken, and many people with mental illness end up in prison or creating more children with similar issues. Our quest as a society to always be busy and get rid of God and any sense of moral compass is not helping us raise loved, well-attached children with a strong sense of right and wrong. As a society, we need to make spending time as a family more important and have some authentic discussions about providing more affordable and available public and private mental health services for both adults and children.
As teachers we don't always know what our students' home lives are or their background, but we still have unlimited potential to make a difference. We can't make up for parents, but at the same time you never know when you might be the most consistent and loving thing in that child's life. I hope you find some time this week and through the holidays to hug your students and your family, smile and laugh, and be thankful for the blessings in your life.