Friday, December 21, 2012

Licensed to Teach

So I guess the NRA says the answer to stop school shootings is more guns, joining the smattering of elected officials who recently have promoted the idea of arming teachers and principals. This approach is wrong.

If a place like Ft. Hood, TX which has some of our planet's most deadly weapons carried by some of our planet's most deadly professional soldiers, can be reduced to carnage by a single armed assassin, then what makes The NRA think that arming a nation of just-right-book loving, denim jumper wearing, wooden apple bead necklace creating, white board marker toting school teachers (and the rest of us) will be effective?

You want to arm me? Good. Then arm me with a school psychologist at my school who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing.

Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, have meaningful discussions with students about their future and not merely frantically adjust student schedules like a Jenga game.

Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to a student's and her family's needs so I. Can. Teach.

Arm me with enough school nurses so that they are accessible to every child and can work as a team with me rather than operate their offices as de facto urgent care centers.

Arm me with more days on the calendar for teaching and learning and fewer days for standardized testing.

Arm me with class sizes that allow my colleagues and me to know both our students and their families well.

Arm my colleagues and me with the time it takes to improve together and the time it takes to give great feedback to students about their work and progress.

Until you arm me to the hilt with what it will take to meet the needs of an increasingly vulnerable student population, I respectfully request you keep your opinions on schools and our safety to yourself NRA. Knock it off.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sad & angry, scared & grateful

On Monday I sent the following note out. I am posting it here so more folks get a glimpse of the confidence and gratitude I have for the public school system my children attend and whose educators I have the privilege of representing, even as I am filled with a deep and pervasive sadness for Newtown, CT. -mc

Dear SPFT Community:

As an English/language arts teacher I pride myself on the command of language I’m supposed to have, and yet I am struggling to find the words to express how sad and angry and scared and grateful I am.

Sad because it is heartbreaking to think of the loss families, friends and an entire community are experiencing right now In Newtown, Connecticut and beyond.

Angry, because I am sick and tired of these stories. Angry that we do not find access to high quality mental health services compelling enough to prioritize in district, state, or federal budgets. Angry that this tragedy no doubt rubs raw the wounds still felt in sweet, struggling communities like Red Lake or ROCORI MN, that deserve better. Angry because we all deserve better than to have to question our safety, and the safety of our children, in our schools, in our movie theaters, in our malls, in our communities. Angry because it seems that every time an event like this happens we collectively seem to mourn well and act slowly.

Scared, because I realize that pretending my children, or any children, are safe from this is fiction. Acts of terrorism such as this—especially in what feels like their increasing frequency—demonstrate exactly what terrorism is supposed to: that safety is an illusion when anyone with a sick idea has access to the weapon best suited to carry out said sick idea. Scared for you because I know you do everything in your power to teach well despite all the normal distractions, let alone the unthinkable like this occurring. Acts like this demonstrate how acutely you truly are on the frontlines of our students’ futures. Your work to demonstrate your care for students, to keep them safe, to meet their needs continues to be the most powerful antidote to my fear and the fears any of our students or parents have, which is why I find myself grateful.

Grateful may not seem to fit as a reaction to terrorism, but I am grateful for you. By sheer coincidence, by participating in the time-honored tradition of delivering forgotten homework, I was walking through Highland Park Middle School about the same time the world was finding out about the act of terrorism in Newtown, yet I didn’t know it yet. I was struck at the time, even more so now, at the serene scene that I found in all the hallways I walked. Watching my son walk toward me, as the sun lit up the south-facing windows, his expression joyful, I felt purely like a satisfied parent at that moment, thrilled with all that his schools had given him, excited that he could tell me how he was spending his day, that his teacher said to say “hello” and that he was eager to get back to class. As I walked toward the door, and passed classrooms with feverish teaching and learning sounds coming from them, a teacher and assistant principal discovering a sticky situation involving glue and a drain, and students bustling with clear places to go, my pride in the work you do was fairly bursting. I knew at that moment that every corner of St. Paul’s schools was working toward that same atmosphere. You don’t know how grateful I am to all of you who meet the needs of all of our students with such joy, such passion, such dedication, such determination every minute, every hour, every day you can. I am deeply grateful. The fact that someone, somewhere took that serenity away from children and parents and that school community makes me physically sick even while it inspires my deep gratefulness for you. I am grateful that you took time this weekend to prepare to bring that safety back to our students and families. Thank you.

I used to teach under the illusion that while students were in my classroom they were safe. I would worry about them when they left because I didn’t know if they would be safe. Part of that was, perhaps, me just being a control freak, perhaps part of that was some sort of white privilege coming out, but I do know for certain that it was because of the genuine care I had for my students. I wanted to see them again. I couldn’t wait to see them again and pick up where we left off. My way of telling them that, especially at the end of class every Friday was to say “Good-bye, see you Monday. In the meantime take care of yourself and take care of each other.” And with that, I would usher them out, assuaged that I had sort of given them one more thing to do while hoping to get across that I cared about them.

I don’t believe that I will ever make sense of this act of terrorism. We may make meaning of it by advocating for efforts that improve the safety of our community for our students and ourselves. I am grateful that you do everything you can to take care of the students and families of St. Paul Public Schools, including mine. I am also grateful that you are part of a union community that, by the very definition of solidarity, takes care of each other.

Thank you and be well.

Mary Cathryn