December 16, 2012
Tomorrow is Monday, and we go back. We go back to school, along with thousands of other teachers and students across the country. We go back, while there are innocent souls in the state of Connecticut who will never return. A tragedy such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary leaves behind not only those who were violently gunned down far too early in their young lives, but leaves behind also the families and friends who will try to pick up shattered lives while dealing with unspeakable and unfathomable loss. They, too, will never go back. There is no going back to the lives they once had. There will always be before last Friday, and after--a line of demarcation forever drawn in the sand.
But tomorrow, we go back. I heard about the tragedy while I was at school on Friday. As usual, I checked my email during our brief break between classes. Word was just reaching the news--a school shooting had occurred. At least a dozen victims. These news stories are always a punch to the stomach. One of my students told me during the next class that his mom, also a teacher, had texted him an update. Young children--as young as kindergarten and first grade--were among the victims. The victims were now confirmed at 26, twenty of them children. I struggled to make it through the rest of class. My last class of the day was no easier. If I could keep it at bay in my mind, I was okay, but the overwhelming horror would sometimes rise to the forefront and I had to choke back tears and fight a wave a nausea that threatened to overtake me. As a teacher, as a mom--as a human being--the magnitude was and still is, too much for me to bear contemplating fully. But tomorrow, we go back.
It terrifies be beyond words to think about my own children, think about their tiny cherubic faces when they were five and six and seven, and then think about the beauty of all of the intervening years and their whole futures being ripped away from me. It terrifies me now, when they are 14 and 16 and 19, to think about losing them to some horrific fate. It's an abyss I can't begin to come near to contemplate, and yet, these Sandy Hook families have been plunged into that abyss with no warning. It was all I could do this weekend to maintain my composure and shield my kids from the gruesome details, while holding them just a little tighter all the while.
So tomorrow we go back. And beyond the darkness that underlies the worst nightmare of every parent is another fear for me--the fear of a teacher. I work with wonderful and amazing teachers every day. We all got into the profession because we want to make a difference; we want to inspire and encourage and engage and teach kids. We look around our classrooms and we all see kids with potential and we see kids who will go out and touch other lives as they grow up and become the people they hope to be. We see kids who are successful already, and we see kids who need more time to grow, and we see kids who don't see who they could become yet, and we try to encourage them to reach high. We try to show them a mirror that shows them their best self--not always an easy task in the adolescent high school landscape that is wrought with self-doubt and insecurity. Not always easy for an age group that is sometimes handicapped by a self-inflicted myopia which makes it ill-equipped to see a 'bigger picture' much beyond the present. But we try. I promise you, we try. We try to connect with the kids, and show them that we care and that we believe in them. We try to find a niche for the kids who feel like they don't belong; we try to help kids find a safe place to be themselves.
So what is my fear? It's this: what happens when we miss someone? What happens if I miss someone? I'm always frightened that there is a kid in my class, even someone I think I've connected with, who still feels lost and unanchored. The perpetrator of this mass murder in Connecticut was described by people who knew him as a loner, one who lacked connections with others. What if there's something more I could do to reach out to give a student some word or some encouragement that they might desperately need? What if I've missed signs, despite my best intentions? What if my colleagues have also missed the signs? If we've misread a facial expression, the body language, some cue that in hindsight will become clear? What if, with a word, or a deed, or some kind of intervention, there is a kid whose life might change direction, and I miss it somehow. THAT is my fear.
And yet....we go back tomorrow. My colleagues and I will continue to do what we do--the work we do on behalf of the children in our temporary charge. And we will continue to hope that we have met the needs of the kids who come into our paths, and intervene and guide when we see that it's needed. And pray that we'll see the need that comes our way.