Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Promise

It has been a little over a month since the Sandy Hook shootings and not a day goes by that I don't think about the 26 lives lost that day. Each day as I step foot into my workplace, my mind almost immediately goes to Connecticut, and I think of that horrible day.

Unusual, you may ask?  Not if you find out that my workplace is an elementary school.   I am a "special area" teacher at a local elementary school and spend my weekdays teaching students in  grades K-5, working with close to 150 different kids in one day.  Thirty of the kids I see each day are first graders, the same age as the 20 sweet children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Just days before that dreadful day in Newtown, CT,  our school had a safety drill. For the protection and safety of our students, I cannot and will not give details on the actual drill or procedures, but I will tell you that every time we have this drill, at least one student asks why we have it.  My answer is almost always something like, "to practice being safe" or to "help keep you safe."  Many times students will discuss among themselves before or after the drill that we have it to practice "hiding from the bad guys" or to "lock the bad guys out."  Many times I've had first graders or kindergarten students during one of these drills, and I always have a few that are scared, even though they know it isn't real.   I've always reassured them that they are safe, that we do the drills to help to protect them and that they are in one of the safest places they could ever possibly be.

When I've had to review procedures for the drill, I've seen and felt the wide eyes staring back at at me, filled with either fear or wonder.  I know they are thinking, "What could be so bad in school that we would need to hide in the first place?"  I know some have to be imagining what the "bad guy" looks like or what he might do to us.

I've even likely said to a few of them "nothing bad would ever happen here." Or other similar words.  I know I've thought many times in the past that this type of thing would never even happen at elementary school. It isn't likely or common for elementary students to bring guns to school to shoot other students, right?   And who else would want to shoot a bunch of elementary school kids anyway?   *sigh*

I can't help but think that the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary had those same thoughts and uttered those same words whenever they had to reassure children during their school safety drills.  I can't even let myself go to the place they might have been mentally on December 14, 2012,  when "all hell broke loose."  Whenever I even start to think of what that must have been like I just about lose it.  I know I am not the only teacher in my building who thinks this way.

I also know I will be thinking of them next time (and the next time, and the time after that. . .) we have one of our school safety drills.  How could I not?  And I know I won't be the only one. 

And then I think, "How did we get here?"

How did we get to the point where those types of drills are even needed in the first place?  Why is it that we have to teach our children to hide from "bad guys" in one of the places they should feel safest?  The "real world" can be a scary one to elementary school students.   Heck the real world can be scary for students of all ages! That "big scary world" isn't supposed to invade their schools, playgrounds or homes!  They should always feel safe at home as well as to go play outside or go hang with friends at the local mall.  And children most certainly should feel safe when they go to school every day. 

I remember being in elementary school (it was just yesterday after all, right?) and the only drills we ever had to practice were the ones to protect us if the school should catch fire or a bad storm were to develop in the area.  I never ever once worried about someone coming into school to hurt me or my friends or teachers.  Sure there were times when walking home I looked around and made sure no "bad guys" were following me, wanting to kidnap or hurt me.  But then even that was rare and typically only after we'd had seen a "stranger danger" program at school.   And I know I didn't think twice when walking into any school building about being safe.  The only time I was probably ever scared while at school is if we had a tornado warning and had to take cover,  yet I was always confident my teachers and principal would keep me safe.

What has become of our society that children now have to worry about being safe at school in addition to all of the other scary "real world" places? What has become of our society that when parents have to kiss their kids goodbye in the mornings,  before putting them on the bus or dropping them off at the school door, they have to hope and pray they will have the chance to kiss them again at the end of the day?

I am just in disbelief that we have so failed as a society that many of our children can no longer truly feel safe anywhere anymore.  That thanks to some crazy people, our children have to worry about this happening at their school, the movie theatre, or the mall.

I thought about making this post about gun control,  because all of the "latest talk" has gotten me really thinking about all of this again today. However,   I am not writing this to start a debate. Guns after all, are just part of the problem.  I just want to make people stop and think, to stop arguing and to listen.  Is that too much to ask? 

Yet I will say, we have failed as a society when we care more about our rights to own guns and stockpiles of ammunition,  than we do about keeping our children safe, giving them proper health care or keeping them warm at night.  I reeeaaaalllly don't want to make this post about gun control, but I don't think I will ever understand why so many people are so against having tougher laws when it comes to buying and owning guns? So many times I've heard, "What about knife or rope control?  Those things can kill people too. What about that?"  Well, the last time I checked, knives and ropes are tools that were designed and are MAINLY used for a different purpose.  Unfortunately they are also used by a some people to kill sometimes.    However, a gun is a WEAPON, not a tool, that most people use to hunt for food or for sport, but unfortunately too often are used to KILL PEOPLE.  Big difference.  And what about those special guns that kill bunches of people all in a matter of minutes? Do we really need to own those? Really??

I don't want to hear the argument or the saying that "guns don't kill people, people do" ever again.  It is true, guns don't kill people all by themselves.  However SOME of the people operating the guns USE the guns to kill people WAY TOO OFTEN.  And many of those that use the guns to kill people are mentally ill or just plain bad and evil and hey,  they can buy guns at Walmart or on the internet (without anyone ever checking to see who they are)!  Yes, we as a society have failed them too.

And again, I don't want to make this about gun control, because like I said, guns are only PART of the problem.  We have failed as a society when we care more about ourselves than each other and don't want to take the time to look more closely,  to take our noses away from our computers, video games,  smart phones (guilty as charged) and other devices to notice the people around us.

When is the last time you really got to know all (well most) of your neighbors?  I think I have people on my block that have lived near me for over 10 years that I've never talked to, not even once.  FAIL.

How many of us would even recognize a nearby neighbor if we saw them in the grocery store?   That is not how it was when I was growing up.  Granted, I know we didn't know everyone, but we knew most of our close neighbors, had block parties and other get-togethers, and ran around outside for hours with our friends.  It is not like that anymore.

And don't get me started on how we really fail as a society when it comes to helping each other.  Sure we are great at helping in times of disaster or sickness, but what about all of the time?  So many of us don't want to help the poor, the homeless, the sick, the mentally ill, the elderly,  or our children - I could go on and on - not if it means giving up some of our hard earned money. We are too selfish.
This goes beyond gun control. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves, stop being such a selfish "all about me" society and start caring more about each other, just like we did in the "olden" days.  Not just in times of need, but all of the time.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, I loved hearing about how so many people across the country and the world, were participating in "26 Acts" of kindness,  to honor the memory of those 20 children and 6 adults taken from us way too soon.  I even did some of those "kind things" myself.  But I couldn't help but thinking how great it would be if we could act this way all of the time.  That maybe if we were a kinder, more caring society, that we wouldn't have as much of this "bad stuff" happening.  That our children would feel safe to go to school again and no parent would ever have to worry that when they kissed their precious little ones goodbye in the morning, it would be for the last time.
 And that if there were someone thinking of hurting our children (or hurting any human being for that manner) that we'd recognize right away that something was wrong, we'd know the "warning signs," that something wasn't quite right, get that person help right away, and maybe even prevent anything bad from happening!  Wow, what a thought! You mean if we care about each other and take care of each other, of EVERYONE, we might actually stop something bad from happening?

Don't get me wrong, I am lucky enough to live in a community where I see a lot of kind acts going on around me all of the time.  I know so many caring and giving people,  I am proud to live where I do. But I also know we could do more.

I know I am going to make a promise to myself and to my community.  As a teacher, I owe it to my students to do what I can to help keep them safe both in school and in our community. To start with,   I recently made a special promise, in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims AND survivors, and I'd love to see you do the same.  Please click here for more info and please help spread the word.  This is the least you can do. We all have to work together to stop this sort of thing from ever happening again.