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How do I keep my grandchildren safe?

I retired from teaching four years ago. For twenty-five years I taught in public high schools in Louisiana. One of the schools was, for many years, the largest school in the state.

I never feared for my life or the lives of my students as a classroom teacher.

Not after Columbine in 1999 when, like many schools, we dealt with bomb threats on regular basis. So much so, the kids started calling them “bomb fests.” Each time we were told to evacuate our classrooms, we made sure to carry sunglasses, hats, and water. Kids even brought guitars to school during those weeks.

Not that we didn’t take these threats seriously. Our administration never failed to follow through on notifying law enforcement, even if they suspected it was a hoax.

Two things bothered me about those mass exoduses of over a thousand students when that happened. We were usually brought to the football stadium, which I couldn’t help but think made us all easy targets.

The second was when teachers were asked to escort the deputies to their empty classrooms to tell them if they saw anything unusual. First, there’d be over two dozen backpacks abandoned on the floor. Seriously? And I often wondered why, if a bomb was suspected in a given classroom, teachers were putting their lives on the line with the deputies.

Not after  our school participated in an active shooter drill in 2008 on a half-day when students were released after exams. Because the size and demographics of our school fit the profile, it was chosen as a way to test law enforcement’s response to a simulated school emergency. Now, and sadly, nine out of ten public schools have these drills when students are in classes, at all grade levels.

But ten years ago, this kind of drill was not the norm. So, teachers and students who chose to participate volunteered. We had no idea when the drill would start, but we could decide if we wanted to be going through our simulated day as usual, injured or dead. I, along with several other teachers who would be “dead” was brought into a room where someone applied stage makeup so we would appear to have been shot. Even knowing it’s fake, it’s beyond eerie to see yourself in a mirror with a bullet wound to your forehead.

I don’t remember how much time after those of us who were to litter the floors as dead bodies were in place that the drill started. All I remember is the relentlessness of the  fire alarms, the gun noises (all simulated), the smoke bombs, screaming. Then the whirring overhead of helicopters, banging on the outside doors when the rescue teams came in. Men and women with night vision glasses and guns and them passing by us, checking to make sure we were dead, moving on…more screaming. Teachers who were in their classrooms or the faculty lounge hunkered down behind their desks, but fully aware that the back wall of every classroom was all windows (two of the four schools in which I taught had only first floors).

The unfortunate lesson we learned was the best we could hope for was to find a place to hide until either the shooter quit or help arrived.

To give you some idea of why security guards and/or metal detectors are ineffectual in some schools, below is an aerial view of the school where the drill was held. Not shown are the football field and stadium, and baseball fields.Directly behind the school is a wooded area. 

Not after a threat happened in my own school. While I was on a sabbatical leave in the fall semester of 2011, an attack at the  high school in which I taught was foiled when other students told administrators weeks before the first day of school. Three 15-year-old boys, calling themselves “Day Zero,” planned to kill a specific student and faculty member, shoot at others indiscriminately and target school security initially and take his weapon.

Again, here’s the campus layout:

So, when I hear that schools should have locked gates, metal detectors and security at all entrances, I realize that the public is not always aware of how impossible this is for some campuses.

As for arming teachers…please…that’s so ludicrous I’m not even going to address the issue. Well, only to say that the supplies provided to teachers were erasers and chalk, a desk and a chair. And the number of copies I could make a month were limited, and if I needed more, I had to pay for them. So funds for providing guns, bullets and training?

And I’m not buying into these logical fallacies about cars and planes killing people, so when are we going to outlaw those. Cars and planes were designed for transportation. Under circumstances about which we’re all familiar, they can be used as weapons to kill or kill as a result of an accident.

An AR-15 was designed to kill. Period.

Or the argument that knives can kill people as well, and more people than could firearms. The data being used is selective, at best.  True, but the timeline of killing 17 people and injuring 14 is:

2:19  Cruz arrives at school

2:21   Shooting starts

2:24  Shooting stops

From WSVN 7 News: Text message from student to parent during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting. Thankfully, this child is safe.

Would he have been able to murder and injure as many people in three minutes with a knife?

But now, I fear for America’s teachers and students.

I fear for my own grandchildren who attend school everyday expecting to see their friends, learn and be sent home safely.

I want to buy them bulletproof vests to carry in their backpacks. I want them to have their cell phones always charged so they can communicate with us.

I want them to never, ever, ever live with having seen the bodies of their classmates or teachers ripped apart by bullets that travel 3,200 feet per second.

I want to plan their birthday parties and graduations and weddings. Not their funerals.

According to Melisa McNeill, his public defender, Cruz is “… sad. He’s mournful. He is fully aware of what is going on, and he’s just a broken human being.”

Also,  another one of his attorneys Howard Finkelstein, stated that he is “willing to have his client plead guilty immediately in return for the prosecution agreeing to take the death penalty off the table.”  This plea would help the community his attorney said: “”We have an opportunity to begin to put this behind us, to help the victims’ families as much as we can and begin to heal as a community.”

Did he give any of the seventeen people he murdered the opportunity to plead for their lives?

Benjamin Gorman wrote “Open Letter from a Teacher Who May Take a Bullet for Your Child.” His post is brilliant. Please read it.

Enough is enough because THIS is scary:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never promised you a rose garden…or a stapler

Cruising through my files, I stumbled across this blog post I’d written as an English teacher to high school juniors.  I’ve been retired for over four years now, but reading this transported me back to the classroom, to those days when I wondered if June would ever arrive, and to those students…many of whom have stayed in touch with me via Facebook. 

I remember having these actual discussions with my students. Now, with the perspective of time, I find them amusing. In fact, this was my giggle for the day.

DIRECTIONS ON HANDOUT:

  1. Write an essay consisting of five paragraphs.
  2. Staple this handout to the back of your paper before submitting it.
  3. Your essay is due at the end of class.

 

QUESTIONS TO TEACHER (ME) FROM STUDENTS:

  1. Does it really have to be five paragraphs? What if I write only four?
  2. Where do I staple this handout?
  3. Do you really want this stapled to my essay?
  4. Am I supposed to staple this to the back of my essay?
  5. I’m out of staples.
  6. What if I don’t finish? Can I take this home?

 

WHAT STUDENTS REALLY WANT TO SAY:

  1. If we barrage you with enough questions, we think you’ll eventually back off. We would rather listen to an hour of Frank Sinatra than write even fifty words on a sheet of paper.

 

  1. We know you told us at the beginning of the school year to purchase our own mini-stapler, but we either didn’t purchase one, purchased one and lost it, purchased one and broke it, and/or it ran out of staples five months ago when the kid behind me took it and emptied the staples, one by one, into my hair. I’ve passed any number of places where I could purchase more staples and/or a stapler, but I really didn’t have time to stop because Starbucks was about to open or close, and I needed to be there. Anyway, we don’t understand why you won’t allow us to use your stapler when we know you’re hiding at least two of them in your desk.

 

  1. Is the earth going to stop spinning if I staple the handout to the front instead of the back? Sometimes you seem just a tad bit OCD. We think, perhaps, we might be able to help you overcome that if we don’t always follow directions.

 

  1. We know we could finish before the end of class, but we have homework for Free Enterprise/Civics/Biology/Spanish/French/Geometry that’s due next hour. And, Heather didn’t have time in my other class to finish telling me what happened at Prom because she got all caught up in the fashion disaster that Missy wore and then the bell rang.

WHAT THE TEACHER REALLY WANTS TO SAY (and sometimes MAY say some of the below):

  1. Directions are entirely at your discretion. Feel free NOT to follow them; however, feel equally free to stand ready for the consequences.

 

  1. Students in 11th grade honors  should be able to burp five paragraphs in fifty minutes. That’s ten minutes per paragraph. If you think that’s not a long time, think about being poked in the eye with a hot stick for ten minutes.

 

  1. If you write only four paragraphs, that’s one less paragraph I need to read. See #1.

 

  1. Yes, I want the handout stapled to the BACK because I don’t want to read 100+ essays and have to flip the handout out of the way every time. You will need the handout when I return the essay to remind you of the directions. See #1.

 

  1. I told you in August that if you were old enough to sit behind the wheel of a moving vehicle traveling at 50+ miles per hour, you were certainly old enough and responsible enough to purchase, be trusted with, and use a stapler no longer than 2-3 inches.

 

For the record, I have THREE staplers. I purchased them with MY money. Years ago, I allowed students to use my stapler. Over that period of time, staplers were “lost,” broken, or abused. When it was time to submit papers, the room sounded as if it had been invaded by wildebeests galloping through the Kalahari when 25-30 students would simultaneously flock to my desk. It was uncivilized. And it wasted valuable class time. And it made ME responsible for YOUR paper. And so the entitlement program of free stapling ended.

 

  1. My directions may seem, possibly could be, OCD-ish. Wait until you fill out your first tax return. Ask the IRS if you can switch around the information. Let me know how that works for you.

 

  1. The lesson isn’t limited to the writing. It’s a lesson on being responsible, practicing wise time management, and following directions.

 

  1. Clearly, socialization is an integral part of the high school experience, one which I certainly would not want you to experience the pain of deprivation. So, to accommodate that need, we have scheduled special times for your bonding with friends. We call it before and after school, passing time between classes, and lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Push a Wet Noodle

NOTE: Cleaning up files, I tripped across this post from my days in teacher-land. Since I’m closing in on a deadline, I thought I’d share this, and save brain space for my manuscript. Enjoy!

Today, a series of events converged into the perfect storm that, without the support of my colleagues, would have left me drowning in a sea of frustration.

The first strike of thunder started with a student complaining about having to watch the Veterans’ Day special program on the morning announcements. In one of my rare “call your kids from the neighbor’s house” voices, I informed him that men and women died so he could whine about sitting in a classroom watching a flat screen television, and I was certain the soldiers’ families would so appreciate knowing how much he honored their contributions.

Announcements over, I returned graded papers.

Strike two. A student who submitted an assignment that did not follow the guidelines, was incomplete, and looked as if he’d written it in the back of a pickup truck traveling over a gravel road, had the audacity to “bow up” and yammer about the unfairness of it all.

So, I launched into my “come to Jesus” speech (I don’t refer to it as that to my students; after all, I teach in a public high school). Inevitably, every class, every year requires one of these. Twelve weeks into the school year, the bar’s higher than it was in August, and they’re feeling the pain of chin bruises. Some of them react by stretching, working smarter, and asking for help. Others, usually the members of the “exert minimal effort for maximum gain” club, start fashioning voodoo dolls that are sporting glasses and sensible shoes and look very much like I do.

Eight out of twenty-one students in the class submitted the assignment. The others “forgot” (note: each student was given a planner at the beginning of the school year) because “you didn’t tell us it was due.” One student told me she’s too busy to do homework and, after all, she has six other classes. I reminded her I had 143 other students, and we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day.

Another informed me that I grade too hard. Not a surprise. In fact, just a few days ago, another teacher overheard a student say, “Mrs. Allan grades like a Nazi.” I didn’t know the Nazis had time to grade papers…but, anyway…I’ll own that I have high expectations. I don’t apologize for expecting more of them than they do of themselves because even if they fall short of what I expect, they’re often miles ahead of where they would have been.

If they can’t meet some of my expectations–rigorous ones like writing in blue or black ink only, using a heading that includes writing a last name, not Joe T.,  and writing on the front of the paper–how’s that mindset going to work for them in the real world, with real jobs?

A student remarked, “I’m not going to need a job. I’m gonna be rich.”  To which one of her classmates responded, “You can’t even pass English, how you gonna get rich?” (I love when kids “get it”!)

Sure, they’re freshmen, and they’re young and silly and hormonal. I get that. But I’m not buying into the, “they’re ONLY freshmen” excuse for why they shouldn’t be held accountable or why they shouldn’t learn to self-advocate.

Nothing disappoints  me more than spending my time reading work that’s obviously completed at the last minute or blatantly disregards guidelines. And, honestly, I feel a wee bit resentful taking time away from my family, my friends, whatever…to spend with half-hearted attempts.

When I do sit down to grade, I don’t do it after a fight with my husband, or after opening that month’s bills, or after being awake for twenty-three hours. I give them my best effort. It’s what I believe I should do. But, as I pointed out to them this morning, they expect my best effort, but don’t submit theirs.

The bell rings and Mr. Bowed-Up walks straight to the principal to complain. No problem because the principal then walks straight to me  to tell me his suggestion to the student was to schedule a conference. (Two years ago at my former school, a parent left messages on an administrator’s phone that she was calling the school board to ask that I be fired.  That apparently didn’t work out for her.)

Second period happens to be my planning period, so I sit to check my school email. Thunderbolt three. I’m not going into too much detail here because this is a yet unresolved issue. I open an email from a parent with whom I already had a conference, and find a l-o-n-g diatribe consisting of biting sarcasm sprinkled with bits of character assassination. In terms of emails I’ve received since that became an accepted form of communication, I’d say this one ranks in the top five of the most vituperative.  I refuse to even dignify it with a response.

Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to accept that they want academic success more than the kid wants it. And it’s more difficult yet when the parents are working harder than their student because sometimes that leads to smug kids who think parental units will fight their battles.

At an Advanced Placement reading two years ago, a college professor told me more and more parents are calling their offices asking for their student’s grades, demanding extra credit be given, wanting grade changes…Of course, the college teachers find all this quite amusing, and refer to them as “helicopter parents” because they’re constantly hovering over their kids.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: my wise father always told me, “Christa, you can’t push a wet noodle.”

Storm over.