Monday, December 17, 2012

Please Don't Turn Teachers Into Snipers!

Finding Solutions to Violence at School
© Katrena
When I worked as a bedside cancer nurse, I could often easily pick out the patients who were teachers. After dutifully taking multiple pills, they would practically yell, "Wait...don't throw that away!" if I attempted to dispose of the plastic medicine cup.

Teachers are that way. They not only recognize and seek to develop potential in their students, they also have an eye for the possibilities within that little plastic cup and other seemingly insignificant objects. Perhaps the kids can make a craft with them. Maybe they could grace a bulletin board. The cups would make great eyes in a vegetable arrangement! Storage containers? Math helpers? Well, you get the idea. Teachers tend to get creative on tight budgets.

Teacher Talent That Focuses on Education - Photo by University of Pittsburgh at Bradford from Wikimedia Commons
Teachers are great at multi-tasking. Teaching curricula...completing forms...attending to hygiene and nutritional needs...staying on schedule...and all while trying to keep a smile on their faces. Education can be a lifelong habit, and teachers often find themselves in both formal and informal learning environments throughout their careers.

But don't include marksmanship in the mix. Teachers watch out for student safety every day. The near misses rarely go viral on the Internet. Four days before the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a 9-year-old brought a loaded handgun to my child's school. He carried it around in his bookbag all day, attempting to show the gun to my daughter as she was leaving for the car rider line. But she was not sure what he was saying and needed to leave.

That child's intentions were not the same, but the potential for disaster was too close for comfort. A teacher noticed and immediately reacted. No one was hurt at our elementary school. I am incredibly grateful for that.

We could install high fences, metal detectors, high-tech cameras, and automatically locking doors. We could put the kids in bullet-proof vests and create elaborate systems keeping more people out than those who intend harm. We could make sharpshooting a job requirement....but what if this simply provides access to a weapon past all those safety measures?

Teachers Who Want to Teach - Photo by Lsiryan at Wikimedia Commons
I am personally astounded by the quick actions of so many at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The reaction time must have been minimal. Turning on the intercom, locking doors, hiding. Who knows how many lives were saved that horrible day by simple acts heroes who found a defense within the confines of where they were? But the ones who lost their lives did nothing wrong. They did what they could and our hearts mourn for senseless loss of lives.

Those who target innocent people typically did not become that way overnight. The stigma of mental illness is still a huge barrier to overcome. Quality, holistic, creative mental and behavioral health services backed by solid evidence-based practice and research are lacking in our country. Many of the best programs are unaffordable, inaccessible, and/or overwhelmed, leaving families to try to deal with the situation on their own, with rapidly depleted, inadequate resources. These families often deal with policies, red tape, and shaming societal attitudes that victimize and isolate them further.

How to Make Schools Safer - Photo by Mike Miller at Wikimedia Commons
For me, the answer is not in trying to make schools into forts, with teachers serving as guards. Reasonable safety policies that are clear, understood, and practiced as appropriate? Yes. But those who are determined to create despair will often find a way, despite all the extra effort. Go to the root. Find a better way to repair the broken minds and hearts of those who disconnect.

We now have 26 new reasons to address this issue with resolved intent. Let those lives create change that works. I don't have all the answers. Perhaps we as a nation should look at that medicine cup in a new light. Our children's future may depend on it.

Readers may also wish to see my musical tribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary School survivors entitled The Day Our Nation Cried. Find more educational resources at the Student Survive 2 Thrive site map.

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